Archive | September, 2011

Notes from a Liberating Passage

30 Sep

The sun was burning like never before over Eastern Cuba.  It was September 10th when we immersed ourselves in the hills of Baracoa, we had to hide for two days so they wouldn’t notice us.  The National ‘Boitel and Zapata Live’ March for Cuba’s Freedom on the 13th of this month consisted of the presence of 36 human rights activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance.  The Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front invited me to cover the event.

The Eastern retinue kicked off the March from Duaba Beach, where Maceo and Flor Crombet (Cuban independence fighters) disembarked in 1895.  The opening remarks made by Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina highlighted the purpose of this civic action.  We were not to respond to the offenses of either civilians or soldiers, nor to the same physical blows usually employed against us, we would not resist arrests and we would not shout slogans or display written ones, and those of us who could were to dress in white.  We would be as peaceful as possible, as we ended up doing.  When we were just about 20 meters from the police cordon we began to sing the national anthem and turned ourselves in to our captors.  That was it, a total of 36 detainees between the 13 of us who participated and those who were jailed before arriving at our meeting spot.

The Arrest

Eliecer Palma, Jose Triguero Mulet, and I were taken on a Jeep to the Operation Unit towards Moa.  We spent nine hours in that unit, sitting on a concrete bench waiting for the supposed decision of the Holguin G2 about our destiny, just for them to later decide to send us to the filthy cells of that center of horror.

As we waited to be locked away there, activists Annie Carrion Romero, Milagros Leyva Ramirez, and Lewis Fajardo showed up to check on us and they were quickly detained.  After keeping them for a few hours, the women were sent off to Mayari and the man dropped off in Cueto.

The food was more of the same: an acid and foul smelling ground beef, a transparent water with some noodles floating in it, rice with rocks and other pieces of trash, and a piece of a viand.

Among the detainees that I was sharing a cell with, there were two young men accused of killing and selling a cow.  Those in another cell nearby mine had been caught in the illegal game of ‘lottery’, known as ‘La Bolita’, and I saw others who had been stripped of their conditional freedom for not working- they owed fines they could not afford or had bought some item of suspicious origin.

The chief of that Unit, Major Claudio Zaldivar Matos, a thug who is well known in Moa for his aggressiveness towards detainees and even his proper men, put on a show of ‘toughness’ so that I would get off the bunk bed and get in the line of prisoners who were to be inspected on that morning.   The intervention of another police official kept him from beating me as he had promised, though we were able to exchange a few words: he stated that he did not care that I was a peaceful dissident and I assured him that they were all violators and that I did not follow orders, much less from soldiers.

I found out that he (Zaldivar) had paralyzed a man after a supposed accident in the municipality of Sagua de Tanamo.  At 2 pm sharp, they released us without charges, contradicting the farce of the previous day when they tried to sign a document which stated we were carrying out acts of Public Disorder.  They did not confiscate anything from us, and at that time others who had joined us in the march were already in the warmth of their homes savoring a cup of coffee.  We left behind the squalor of that place, though I can still feel the pestilence of that dungeon on my skin, which is nothing more than an instrument frequently used by the regime in an attempt to impede what is inevitable, although many may doubt it because of distance, blindness, or a paralyzing fear.

Three Police Officials from San German Sentenced

21 Sep

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

After passing through the rigorous routines of the Military Tribunal and the Military Prosecutors Office, the Provincial Tribunal of Holguin sentenced three officials of the National Revolutionary Police to prison terms between three to four years.  A few months ago, these guards had been active in San German, in the Eastern province of Holguin, but have been moved to a center 700 kilometers from Havana, according to local sources.

The outlaws are Captain Vladimir Aldana, chief of the Police Unit, the 1st Tenant Alexander La ‘O Aguilera, Sector Chief (in the photograph, wearing police uniform), and another official by the name of Jerson, a functionary from the Order of the Interior.  The accused had presumptively overruled charges (in exchange for gifts) against a truck driver who ran over a woman on a public road more than a year ago.  The woman, who asked me not to reveal her name, told me that she filed complaints in the fiscal and tribunal levels of the province, and upon noticing the carelessness of the competent authorities, she decided to file more complaints to the National Fiscal Office, which resulted in a more rigorous investigation and the sentences of those previously mentioned.

The three violators of the law were suspended from their military ranks, and based on the information I have, during this past August it was presumed that Vladimir Aldana had received a savage beating at the hands of common prisoners (as a way of evening things out) with which he shares a cell with in the Closed Regime Encampment known as “Los Naranjos”, more than 20 kilometers from the outskirts of San German.  The local citizens of San German frequently complained about verbal abuses, physical abuses, and the audacious way the prisoners were treated in the police unit, just as much by as the former Police Chief  (Aldana) as by former Sector Chief (La ‘O).

In addition to these complaints, there are unconfirmed accusations of supposed acts of corruption on behalf of these three officials and other functionaries which have not yet even been reprimanded and continue active.

But every devil has his day, my grandmother Maria would say.

The Counter-Strength of Dago

16 Sep

Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

With the evocative name of “Dagorretypes”  (in a clear allusion to the former method of capturing an archetype of reality), Dagoberto Driggs Dumoi has set up an exposition in a salon of the Holguin Writers Union a few weeks ago.

The display of deficiencies is based on a series of photographs imprinted in metal.  They are all snapshots which Driggs Dumoi managed to capture several years ago.  Taking advantage of his job as designer for the Provincial Council of Plastic Arts, he captured the moment when the old sugar cane factories were being torn down.

In the contemporary world, art usually accompanies (and in all sense, criticizes) political actions which claim to be universal discourse.  This exposition can be classified as “politically correct”.  If we pay attention to the inclusion of an organization of artists which promote the defense of socialism, and the fact that the current president Miguel Barnet considers himself an open-minded communist, what Driggs has done is provide a testimony of the past and present, an identifiable mark like Cuban sugar has made a compassionate explorer of Dagoberto.

Regardless, Dagoberto Driggs captures a national disaster.  Nineteenth-century sugar and slavery.  Industry and nationalization.  And we can also see the scars of expropriations which counted on the majority’s euphoria and approval 52 years ago.  Through the provocation represented by all forms of art, Driggs unveils a deep wound of the country.  We are before a cultural work which bases itself on the discourse of the periphery for various reasons.  Five years ago, these “Dagorretypes” would have seemed like opportunists and the social person that is this artist would have seemed like a dealer of exotic consummations.  On the other hand, the act of putting a rest to those realities, when thousands of workers in the Cuba of sugar mills were left unemployed and their lives were drastically transformed upon seeing their only source of income vanish, places it far from the practice of melancholy, but instead as pure documentation.

The remains of pipes, pieces of zinc and rusty screws establish their destiny through the trick of a sepia photograph.  The imprecise demarcation between reality and fiction which Driggs has been interested to traverse in order to define his work about the discourse of political submission, in the case of many Cuban artists is well known.

Citing previous installations, plastics which have plowed through unprecedented lands to uproot the high courts of modern globalized art and a parody of a reality identified by insular deficiencies, Driggs is situated as an unprecedented loudspeaker which speaks his truths.

With an excellent guardianship and a  montage between formality and impression, the “Dagorretypes” are more than just a display of art, they are a social gestures which were very much needed in this land of fertile sugarcane fields.

Without Laws and Without Protection

6 Sep

This article was written by Luis Felipe Rojas and published in “Diario de Cuba” on September 6th, 2011.

They receive orders and countermands.  They are sent home as if they were packages, they do not have a labor union to turn to and they cannot say that the system does not work for them: they don’t have someone to turn to, they don’t have where to turn to.  The government’s new economic measures of rationalizing the work force do not even provide enough food to bring home.

More than half a century of moderately qualified workers from the nickel extraction plant in Nicaro, in the province of Holguin, were left jobless during the beginning of 2011.  The suggestions given by the administration  of the “Rene Ramos Latour” corporation were that these workers re-orientate their lives, that they direct their work to other sectors, while knowing chances of that are void, considering that the area has been devastated by exploitation of minerals.

According to Ramon, one of the affected workers, the union did not do anything else but to repeat what was said by the Party and the head of the corporation.  After considering him “available”, another suggestion was that he turn to self-employment or that he wait for the confirmation of an agricultural contingent which has not yet seen the light.

Up to now, the measures implemented to encourage the growth of small businesses or “self-employment” have met more obstacles than anything else, despite the fact that Raul Castro himself has lashed out against the 50 year long immobility which he and his brother have created.

The most frequent complaints, which have appeared in the very few spaces of massive dissemination, range from poor management within the organs of labor justice, the indigence of the unions as a basis for the solution of worker’s problems, all the way to the  most vulgar form of authoritarianism on behalf of the direction of the companies, which completely annul any gestures by the union.

The weekly “Trabajadores” newspaper, the state-owned union’s organ of dissemination, published an interview with Canary Island union leader Daniel Casal this past 1st of August.  In the conversation, Casal, who describes himself as a defender of workers, complains about the Iberian system of associationism, affirming: “Once cannot be in the union they wish to be in, and they will not truly be defended.  Instead, they impose the risk of losing one’s job, and even go to the extreme of enforcing not belonging to a union as a condition for employment”.

Such an assertion seems like a taunt before the imposition of the single-union system in Cuba, at the service of the ideological apparatus of the Communist Party.

Protesting, walking on unstable grounds

Workers from the health, sugar production, and construction sectors are the ones who mostly make up the “available” category, a term which the hierarchy has invented to define the unemployed which, at no moment, can demand anything from the totalitarian union: their only insinuation would be categorized as being a dissident.

The government has put into legal function 74 of the 89 conventions ratified by the International Labour Organization (ILO).  Very few, however, are upheld towards workers.  Even then, the right to strike and the right to assemble outside of the official sector are prohibited.

The strike carried out by horse-driven carriage conductors in Bayamo during the beginning of the year, where a group of them rose as leaders, forced the local government to sit at the negotiation table.  However, the posterior counter-measures such as the cancellation of work licenses, coercion, and other threats left those who first protested abandoned.

Even then, an action such as this strike and its latter conversations emerge as anomalies amid the skein of governmental repression.  In 2010, a strike carried out by self-employed workers shook the municipality of Palma Soriano in Santiago de Cuba.  It did not leave positive settlements for the strikers, as independent unions throughout the country were harassed, detained, beaten, and accused of working under orders from Washington, and even of something worse: of receiving indications from Cuban groups in exile, mainly those situated in South Florida.

Meanwhile, in an issue of “Trabajadores” Newspaper, Raymundo Navarro, a functionary who attended this past June’s annual ILO conference, narrated how he debated about freedom of association and labor unions, about worker’s rights, and collective negotiation among other subjects that have been considered insults within the history of Cuban Unions during the past 50 years.

That is how the government attempts to paint an image of a flawless society, while the media get’s stuck in a reality it cannot narrate. While, with the fear of losing what has already been stolen from them, the workers whisper complaints that are nothing more than prayers.


4 Sep

Subtitle: Aggression carried out against the home of dissident Franklin Pelegrino del Tero, in Cacocum, Holguin.

This is what the tutored mobs do to those who demand freedom of rights and expression.

This is what the combined forces of the G2 and the Rapid Response Brigades did to a group of women who assisted mass and then carried out a march with flowers in their hands in Palma Soriano.

And that’s how Aime Garces ended up after her arrest and mistreatment carried out by indoctrinated mobs in Palma Soriano.  Fifteen days after doing that to her, they once again trespassed into her lawn, invaded her home, and confiscated all cell phones, photo cameras, video cameras, and more.  All of this so that she would not communicate via phone and tell about all the horrors she has lived through during these days.  Also, the confiscation was done so that they would not capture revealing photos of just how much the mobs beat and oppress people under the orders of the General.  But if someone doubts what I am reporting, or if someone wants more information, then I suggest you call them directly.  They will tell you.

Agenda of the Political Police, Agenda of the State

1 Sep

What happens when the old art forms of attacking and killing become the norms of a country?  What can we expect from oppressors and the oppressed if not the most acid fruit of human relations: violence?

Belkis, wife of former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, had her arm cut open after she was attacked by a scissor prior to an arrest.  In Moa, the activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance Annie Sarrion Romero was attacked by a former coworker, suffering fractures in her head and other visible wounds on her forehead.  The home of dissident Franklin Peregrino del Toro, in Cacocum, Holguin, was smeared with tar in attempt to offend and mark him for his opposition against the government.  According to testimonies from the former political prisoner Fidel Garcia Roldan, Major Duglas Torres, along with another official from the Confrontational Unit whose last name is Chapman, took him to a vicinity in the neighborhood of Mayabe, in Holguin, and with sticks at hand threatened him.  Fidel told me that he warned him that he would beat him until he was dead, and that they tried to coerce him to collaborate with that oppressive organ.
In the coastal town of Antilla the dissident Cristian Toranzo Fundichely was victim of harassment by a member of the PDR chain, a military dependency in charge of collecting fees.  The paramilitary officer publicly verbally offended him, to which Toranzo responded by shouting anti-government slogans.  But the Cuban political police’s art of provocation does not have a set pattern, although arrests and beatings are the most common methods.  In the case of my wife, Exilda Arjona, and I, they call us- at our expense- from the number 53631214, which according to CUBACEL is the property of Maria Eugenia Gonzalez Lopez.  The only thing is that the owners of that house cannot explain to us why we are receiving these bothersome calls in the middle of the night.  During the Sunday in which I was reporting about the funeral of Monsignor Meurice Estiu, an ex combatant from the Ministry of the Interior, Luis Leyva, and his daughter Irka carried out a repudiation attack against my wife and my young son as they were on their way to mass.  Exilda was accused of being a counter-revolutionary and of having been “paid off by the Americans”.  Irka is a nurse who is under popular Public Health ministerial punishment, waiting to complete her 5 years of obligatory punishment in order to leave the country and reunite with her Mexican husband.  In order to obtain such a permit, she must demonstrate her fidelity to the government through such appalling acts like this one.  On June 15th of this year, in Bayamo, the human rights activist Yoandri Montoya Aviles received various injuries as product of a beating by a Rapid Response Brigade officer.  The offenses screamed at him were the same ones that are always screamed throughout the country in the presence of high-ranking counterintelligence officials.
Trainers and athletes of martial arts like Taekwondo and Karate in Baracoa, Bayamo, and Gibara are used in mob repudiation attacks to beat peaceful dissidents.  Their award is permission to leave the country and offer their services in Venezuela or other Latin American countries.
A group of Guantanamo natives with horrible social conduct have threatened the well known dissident Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina with death.  Raudel Avila Losada and Carlos Reyes Casanova, dissidents from Palma Soriano, have been attacked with knives by unknown men who also shout offenses at them and so-called revolutionary slogans.  Both of these dissidents filed numerous complaints at the local commissions office, but we know that nothing will occur, considering that those receiving the complaints are the same ones carrying out the beatings and arrests of men and women during the past 6 weeks in Santiago de Cuba, in an attempt to impede them from assisting the cathedral of the town to pray for the liberation of political prisoners.
State terrorism IS state terrorism.  The government gives orders to spit, beat, humiliate, cause provocations thru verbal violence, throw stones in the middle of the night, throw rotten eggs, arm workers with pickets and iron bars…and in sum, to discredit those who oppose.  It is a very clear agenda employed in order to try and keep a firm grip on power.