Archive | November, 2011

Cynicism Without Ambiguity

29 Nov

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Just a few days ago, the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, to join the demands of protestors around the world who demand freedom for 5 Cuban intelligence officials who all reside in US prisons.  The diplomat Rodolfo Reyes has pleaded this in the same exact spot where, just a few years ago, Cuba denied the entrance of Manfred Novak, the international torture inspector and whose position is similar to the one Mrs. Pillay now holds, into the country.  Both the denial of letting Novak into Cuba and the petition issued to Pillay can be taken as acts of provocation.
¿Por qué haberle negado al Mr. Novak entrar al Combinado de prisiones de Guantánamo donde se practican métodos de tortura conocido como

Why did they deny Mr. Novak the right to enter Cuba’s prisons of Guantanamo province, where methods of torture known as “the rocking chair” and “Shakira” are employed in order to break down both political and common prisoners?  Why does the Cuban government carry out what it considers to be a just demand, pleading to Mrs. Pillay to tend to the case of the well-known agents and not for others like Ana Belen Montes who did testify about their acts of espionage and even worked with the North American justice system?

A few days have passed since here in Holguin they celebrated the so-called International Colloquium for the Five, a political event in support of the Cuban intelligence officials who were caught in US territory.   Streamers, signs, marches, concerts and parties were how they tried to entertain (us hyper-disconnected Cubans, natives of the Eastern provinces) to protest for the freedom of the constantly promoted Cuban agents.  After all the planned festivities, the delegates who participated stuffed themselves with hope and solidarity as they marched off to their “indignant” worlds, leaving the rest of us here alone, among the ashes of this poverty.

Partisans Against Those in Power

21 Nov

Porno Para Ricardo, independent Cuban Punk Rock Group

Someone gave me a copy of the documentary “Partisan of Music“.  In addition to its impeccable execution of presenting us with pathways to self-discovery, the filmmaker worthily captures the stories of a rock group from Belarus.  They are underground guys who have decided, after countless arrests and beatings, to confront soldiers and approach their own compatriots to share a symphony of rock which offers them a crack of hope amid an iron-fist dictatorship.  A few years ago, Mioslav Dembinski exposed these stories before the eyes of spectators around the world, and now Cubans who manage to get their hands on this project cannot help but draw comparisons.

Belorussian public spaces, much like in Cuba, are occupied by the militia in order to impede demonstrations of discontent and  musicians from obtaining permits to carry out street concerts.  And so the authorities break up protests through beatings and they take musicians and public figures down to police units.  These are methods which are all linked to each other and which describe the dictatorships, which despite being thousands of miles in distance from one another, are very close when it comes to the pretext of forbidding fundamental rights of citizens.

In Cuba, neither the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo nor the rappers Los Aldeanos, Eskuadron Patriota and other similar acts who all share irreverent and non-conformist tendencies, have been able to enjoy impunity.  The lyrics of Aldo Padron, Ciro, and Gorki Aguila are missiles against censorship.  The art performances of Tania Bruguera, the artistic installations of Jose Angel Vincenth- though silent but sustained- as well as other writers and independent artists can enamor the majority masses more sooner than later.

In “Partisans of Music“, one of the candidates of the opposition which has stood up against the dreadful Lukashenko runs up on stage and shares the irreverence of a group of rockers with fuchsia colored hair.  They do this without being suspicious of one another and without attacking each others bravery.  They just did so to shout, together with the inflamed masses: “Welcome, I am the future of Belarus“, a syllogism which would do us all some good.

Habemus Papam?

13 Nov

Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

We received him like a Father who, in this land, watches over- with dignity and Cuban roots-  the bells of Demajagua and the holy image of the Virgin of Charity (Pedro Meurice, Santiago de Cuba).

It has already become the talk of the media that Benedict XVI, the post-John Paul II pope, will visit the island next year.  The visit presents challenges for three essential actors of the current Cuba.

The first is Benedict himself, who will have to live up to the (very high) example left behind by his predecessor.  Fourteen years later we still remember a sea of people screaming for freedom, embracing each other as if it were D-Day, and praying to the Virgin of Charity that Cuba and all Cubans be granted freedom.

The other actor is the Cuban Catholic Church, for in the persona of its ecclesiastical hierarchy it faces the challenge, and also has the opportunity, to demonstrate just how popular it really is before the Cuban masses, how respected it is by the government, and what it can do beyond handing out promises for a nation overshadowed by contained violence, increasing misery, and desperation as the daily main course.

The third are all of us, as a people.  The microphones and cameras of the entire world will be focusing on what we are asking for and how we go about it.  From here, they will snap a pretty photo of what we are capable of doing in the future- in a future where we have grown tired of waiting for others to do for us what we are capable of doing ourselves.

Although the ‘warrior’ of Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiu is no longer with us, someone will have to present us as a people who, on a daily basis, have less work opportunities, a nation which has been forced to tighten its own belt (a euphanism utilized to dominate us) due to an order eminating right out of the military junta which governs us, and in sum, a country where we cannot scream the word ‘freedom’ without having our heads hit and without being forced to sleep in pestilent dungeons.

And even with all of this, the opposite may occur and, during an olive green and purple embrace, we may be presented before the dejected eyes of the planet as a docile flock lacking hope, dreams, and worst of all, a plan.

*Editor’s Note:  The title of this post- “Habemus Papam?” – refers to the Latin phrase spoken by the Senior Cardinal-Deacon whenever a new pope is elected.  The phrase is spoken in the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, in front of the masses, right before the new pope may present himself. 

The New Fever for Gold

4 Nov

“The New Fever for Gold”, an article written by Luis Felipe Rojas and published on “Diario de Cuba” November 3rd, 2011.

They had planned for a coffee and ended up with a few empty beer cans on the table.  September was advancing with a wicked heat.  They had arrived in twos, without fear, and very open, but they asked me not to record them.

Just as they showed up, they always come in pairs.  They walk throughout the Cuban East from Manati to Yateras, they go inside the luxurious Versalles neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba and the next day they return home to  Banes, Holguin ready to dig.

They seek gold, silver, precious stones, or any other antiquity which comes up along the way.

“10 k Gold, in scrap, has risen from 7 CUC per gram.  In original jewelry, I sell it for 15, and the one being alloyed with other metals I sell for 12.5 CUC”, says Wilbert, a corpulent tanned man who has been in the business of buying and selling precious metals for 2 years.

Just like the others, Daniel travels accompanied by a relative of his.  He plays the role of announcer, screaming at the top of his lungs, “I buy gold watch cases, and broken or defective golden or silver jewels. I accept propositions.”  He pulls out a golden necklace, nearly 15 centimeters in length, from a small bag.  “It was a woman’s necklace.  Pounded gold, it’s dirty, but it’s 18 k, 5 grams.  With it, I can recover the investment I made last week,” he happily affirms.

There are still some people who saved some of their jewels and keep them as luxuries or relics, but there are those who keep them as a source of money in case of an emergency.  “The best I’ve bought has been an 18 k wedding ring.  It weighed 8 ounces.  A man who wanted his son to become a Spanish citizen brought it to me.  I still have it kept away, even though I’m not a fan of jewelry”, assures Wilbert.

They claim that, in their travels, one week they go to rural areas and the other they go to the cities.  According to Daniel, “in the city we find better trophies” and he displays content in the fact that people cannot differentiate well between “old white gold made with Mexican silver, which pays better”.

They have buyers in bulk in Havana, Matanzas, and Holguin, but they claim that now sales are stuck.  That is why they are buying less in the neighborhoods.  “They say that a few weeks ago they scared a couple of guys smuggling some gold in the airport of the capital.  The big buyers do not want to do business until they see what will happen”, states Wilbert’s business partner, without having any of the others trying to refute him.

“Now, we do not only face the danger of the police but also of common criminals”, points out Daniel, and assures that “you also risk your life with this”.

The danger, the dangers

In their travels they have found themselves submerged in the blackmail of the local police.  In the worst of cases they have been fined 1,500 pesos, have had their materials confiscated, and have been warned to not return to certain neighborhoods.

In the report of Authorized Self- Employment Activities, section 109 includes jewelry repairmen, but they are specified to remain in their homes or some other accepted location.

“There is no legal protection for buying and selling precious metals, that is a luxury reserved solely for the government”, signals Daniel, continuing, “there are people who, when they try to sell you something valuable, they bring up the fact that it is a jewel which was saved from the fury of the 80’s, when Fidel Castro gathered up all the gold and exchanged it for soap, imported shirts, or athletic shoes”.

According to what these new fortune-chasers are saying, in just one good day of selling precious metals one can make up to 60 CUC- as an average- but then you must take lots of it in cash, which is a danger in the event that they bump into someone who is armed. A young man from Holguin, from the municipality of San German, died last year from several stab wounds in a nightclub in the center of the capital. Also, a well known buyer-seller found himself in an ugly situation and was not able to get away unharmed when he traveled through a heavily populated neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba.

Among the negotiators which have once again risen like a plague, there are those who “buy jewels for themselves, to make a living, and those who invest their money on properties or put it into circulation to try and see it grow faster”, assures one of those present.

They are all nearly too young and have not done anything but to repeat what their parents, and the government, have already done.  For a few bucks in hard currency they take forgotten or defective jewels from houses.  “Very few people wait around with empty stomachs while wearing a ring with an aqua jewel in the center” says one while holding a silver buckle between his fingers.  Meanwhile, another one who wraps up the conversation assures that “in the end, we are thanking the Soviets for dressing up the Poljot and Raketa watches of those times with gold”.

The obsession for freedom

1 Nov

Librado Linares, ex political prisoner of conscience

What can be done to strengthen the civil society of a nation?  Part of the answer is a polyphonic chorus among dozens of Cuban human rights activists.  As this week begins, the engineer Librado Linares wraps up a course on non-violent leadership which he taught in the form of a workshop in Baracoa, Guantanamo.  With daily 5 hour long sessions, the students learned of the different historical stages which non-violent struggle has gone through, both in Cuba and in the world.  Some of the most notable examples of society confronting totalitarian regimes come from Serbia and Chile, while emphasis was also made on the teachings of King and Gandhi and the threats against freedom stemming from certain dark forces.  It was a brief map of human will.
In a repressive setting such as Eastern Cuba, Librado Linares’ approach reinforces the necessity of proactive activism on the island.  It also points out just how important it is for resistance leaders to look ahead and see that the social framework is more complex than what may appear at first glance.  Linares, recently released from a 20 year sentence, of which he only served 8 thanks to the pressures exerted on the Castro regime, and also member of the group of the 75, has committed himself to teaching his fellow countrymen to use tools which would implement a strategy leading to the unfolding of a peaceful change in our country.  Moving from the symbolic stage we are currently at to the denominated selective resistance and from there towards an exponential scale is the desire of many.  Because of this, according to the evaluations of Librado Linares, the grand strategy course should be inclusive and avoid being the contrary.  It should also work with international solidarity, through the decisive exile forces, and construct, for once and for all, a civil society that is autonomous and firm.
A chat, a debate enriched by experience, a determination to turn obsession for freedom into definite freedom.