Archive | March, 2012

They Arrested Him so That He Would Not Attend the Pope’s Mass

25 Mar

Administrator’s Note:

Luis Felipe Rojas, author of this blog, was detained by the political police of San German and taken to a police barracks.  His wife remained at home under the species of arrest which, in Cuba, is known as “house arrest”.  His compatriot, Eliecer Palma Pupo, was also detained and  it is possible that they are now in neighboring jail cells in the same Unit.

The telephones of Rojas’ family have been totally left without service since yesterday, although the SMS and Twitpic message services had already been cut weeks before.

This family has been devoutly Catholic for 15 years now, and they have received the sacraments which the faith mentions.  They assist mass with Malcom and Brenda, their small children, every Sunday.

The Challenges of a Visit

25 Mar

This article, “The Challenges of a Visit”, was written by Luis Felipe Rojas for ‘Diario de Cuba‘.

Considering the current situation of Cuba, we can conclude that the social scenario where the government, the peaceful opposition, and the Catholic Church should move together has been excessively strained.

On one hand, the governing apparatus of General-President Raul Castro has released a television spot in allusion to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, but the faithful say that it is still too little, alleging that there are “no public posters and it is nowhere near the social euphoria which John Paul II carried with him”, a layman in charge of communications for the Archbishopric of Santiago de Cuba told the Diario de Cuba newspaper.

In the provinces of Las Tunas, Granma, and Holguin, faithful churchgoers have assured that the lists of people who will be allowed to visit the Pope will be directly controlled by  personnel of the Government or the Communist Party of Cuba, as well the fact that “a member of the Communist Party municipal committee will be placed in each bus, accompanying the pilgrims”.  This has produced certain bother among those who cannot see the purpose of this, considering that it is not a visit with a political agenda, as the ecclesiastical and state authorities have stated.  Meanwhile, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible that  a communist militant can spiritually “accompany” a Christian.

Interviewed Catholic sources in Guantanamo and Banes assure that, along with their names they also had to turn in a list with their ID number- information which they have to check as soon as they board the bus.

The events which occurred nearly a week ago in the Charity Church of Havana has helped strain how the Church and the peaceful oppositions see each other.

What is true is that during the last  years there has been a decrease in the promotion of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which has become pending homework for churches. The vertical reinforcement that is the Catholic structure in all sectors, far from strengthening the bonds with the people, has created an emerging elite, for today they now talk about “the men and women of the Church”, a term referring to laymen with some sort of responsibility and many hours under the wing of the bishops, sacristy, pastors, parish advisors, and diocesans.

The call of Pope John Paul II for “the Church to open up to the world”, is a message we are remembering now.  It was in the most literal form possible, without any hermeneutics in the middle.  Opening up to the world, but also opening up to the community.

Dissidents on the island and the Ladies in White have, in their respective parishes, been welcomed with love by brave priests and some loyal churchgoers after the new tactics of marching weekly.  But they have been looked upon with suspicion by the practitioners which shield themselves behind the idea that the Church is no place for political issues.  In it, one can see a total lack of compromise with the world of pain, commented Ruben who was a pastor in his community for several years.

The letter Gaudium et spes from the Vatican II Council expresses: “We have to overcome all forms of discrimination of fundamental rights of people, whether they be social or cultural, for reasons of sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion”.

The current dislikes of dissidents who seek the Church as a form of support in their marginated and persecuted lives is not seen against the communist militants who, from the beginning of the 90’s, were authorized by the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba to build in Catholic, Evangelical, or Spiritualist Centers.

The vilification of the internal dissidence conducted by the political police has soaked society to the point that a certain sector of the laity and the Catholic community in general see them as a threat to their peace and tranquility.

Today, the opinions vary among those who remained outside the pilgrimage lists.  Many would have liked to have seen a better management on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy in regards to the assurance of transportation.  In sum, Ruben adds “the Virgin of Charity’s encounter is with the people of Cuba, and not just the Catholic churchgoers”.

The scene is already set, but the Universal Church gains little if Cubans, absorbed by the Papal visit, forget that at the center of all this is the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin of Charity, which confessions and militancies aside, many consider to be “the Mother of all Cubans”.

A Harvest with Far Too Many Thorns

16 Mar

The announcement came straight from the voice of General President Raul Castro himself, as he shared an analysis with the Council of Ministers. The current sugar harvest is going down a very bad path, he said. And the arguments for such a statement reside in the lack of foresight on behalf of the socialist businessmen. According to the plain declarations, the spare parts for  repairs arrived just in time but there were delays in the execution of the chain of command. In other words, they arrived in the country in time, but not to the sugar production plants. Meanwhile, there are deficiencies with the generating of energy. The available resources are not used to their full potential, Granma newspaper has also signaled.

What is certain is that, according to the oldest sugar plantation workers, a harvest programmed for the beginning of December is considered premature, first of all, and it then becomes too long. That seems to be the general consensus among the most experienced workers and specialists of the field.

It is necessary to make two matters clear here for readers like “Cubano 100%” and “Inocencio“. As for Cubano100%, he posted this comment on an entry of this blog: “(…) and, about working 20 hours, it seems like you exaggerated a bit, besides I am sure that, with how capricious Cubans are, they will not let anyone impose such a work regime like the one you say on them. In sum, if they are doing it, it is because they want to, not because anyone is forcing them“.

Cubano, the fact that workers do not have the right to go on strike in Cuba does not make the violations vanish. The framework of government repression and the pressures of State Unions, you know very well, are very difficult to unravel. Ah! And as for the capriciousness of Cuban workers who would not let themselves suffer impositions, well then we will have to erase an entire 50 year-long history of silence and self-restraint. Much to your dismay, I can confirm that the tiresome process of 12 hour shifts on sugar plantations continue in the province of Holguin.

As for “Inocencio”: The workers directly linked to the production process work during shifts which last from 7 AM to 7 PM in two brigades, while the other rests. Yes, they supposedly rest for 24 hours, but in reality the process should be 3 hours long, meaning that each shift is working 4 extra hours…do they pay them for it? It’s true. Can they can rest 24 hours? Let’s see: when a worker, in one of those God forsaken places, leaves at 7 AM, the least he’s done has been to go to sleep, amid quarrels, in order to provide food for the family and food for livestock, that is enough to tire one to the point of wanting to go to bed in the afternoon. I do not know if you can lay down and get some sleep knowing that your children will come home from school and not find anything to eat. I’ve seen it, I’ve been able to witness it and I have the testimonies of many workers whose faces show the physical wear and stress. The work in the central boilers is an enormous danger for people after they have spent 8 hours of continuous tension.

A bit over a week ago, in the Urbano Noris Central of San German, during the time of supposed payment, the workers were informed that they must return the  bonus money which they had been paid during the fortnightly pay. It was a failed process, leading to the payout of nearly 67,000 pesos in national currency.

On the last collection day, they set up a table so that the workers could deposit what was “erroneously” paid to them previously, but very few actually responded with something substantial. Various sources revealed that only the functionaries of the Communist Party “stepped up”. The rest left 5 pesos, 1 peso, or in many cases, just a few cents.

The reprimands by the administration, the nucleus of the Communist Party of Cuba, and the Union did not take long to follow. One of the current vice-presidents of the local government presented himself in a meeting with engineers and shit/brigade chiefs, using words such as “compromise” or “patriotism”. They are practically being pressured so that, at the same time, they incite the workers to give back their incorrect payments. But, apparently, since the money has passed on to the hands of Fuenteovejuna*, there are no intentions of returning what they were paid.

Either more pressures or coercive measures will be sure to follow. Who knows! We will be attentive.

*Translator’s note: Fuenteovejuna– is a Spanish play from 1619, based on the events which took place in the Spanish village of Fuenteovejuna in 1476, when a commander mistreated numerous villagers. In response, the ‘peasants’ came together and killed that commander. When the king’s men rode into the village to ask who had committed the murder, the villagers responded by saying: “Fuenteovejuna did it”. Therefore, the saying signifies that a single person cannot be blamed.


Non-Violence in Cuba: A Particular Case? (Pt. II)

12 Mar

The previous article of this series started a debate in which, ironically, I was not able to participate in. The reasons of the government – that Cuba is under attack, and the application of the United States embargo- bestow them the right to deny me internet access, or of selling it to me at an unpayable price.

The Cuban democrats have put their faith in their decision to “resist the oppression”, an idea which was also relevant for the Otpor Serbian youth movement and the South-African anti-segregationists.

For Gandhi, returning time and time again to the spot of arrests, in mass, wore out the British colonizing forces- he knew that, and for this reason he sometimes went with his followers to the police stations so that they could detain him.

In the Cuban case, there is an example of “resistance of oppression” which serves as a flag, a guiding light, if we speak of perseverance.  They are the Ladies in White, the group of women which stood before the National Assembly to say: We are here! And we will not stop until each and every one of our prisoners are freed!  Their persistence, their discipline, and their conviction that the path to follow is resistance has yielded them many positive results.

But there is more.

The arrests of human rights activists (a common practice by the State) are now accompanied by denouncements, of messages published on the internet, of calls to  radio stations abroad and by a network which, in just a few minutes, spreads the news throughout the entire island.

Presenting oneself in a police station to inquire about the whereabouts of a detained dissident usually means that the authorities can deny any sort of information. Without the expressed indication of the political police, the National Revolutionary Police assumes the entire role in the repressive cycle, and it does not even inform.  But, is it always like that?

When a small group of dissidents has been able to organize a network of solidarity in an efficient matter, the results have been a moral victory for fearless citizens.

The cases of Raudel Avila Losada in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba; or of the well known Sajarov Award recipient Guillermo Farinas in Santa Clara are enough to affirm that one can resist oppression and come out successful.  On a number of occasions, one or the other has carried out a protest in front of different police stations demanding the immediate liberation of human rights activists.  On other occasions, they have demanded the end of violations against citizens who are not aware of their worker’s rights, and recently, they were protagonists of successful protests which led them to a victory which they still celebrate today.

The power of nonviolence” is an excellent compilation which Orlando Gutierrez put together from the Study Center for a National Option (CEON).  In it, he relates various cases and testimonies of organizations which were able to topple post-communist dictatorships and the reports also emphasize “some factors which cannot be lost from sight by the civic movement on the island”.  The community and local characters, comments Gutierrez Boronat, will become stronger and successful.  In the face of the tentacles of the repressive machinery, the Civic Resistance has forged actions which, focused on the necessities of the community, have proved to be headaches for the authorities.

Workplaces, churches and fraternal associations are under close surveillance and are penetrated by intelligence officials.  In all the cases, the government’s fear stems from the possibility that a local initiative may articulate from the emancipation movement taking place on a national level.

Liberating the country from the national catastrophe is the task of many, it’s worth it to say the task of all.

The Path to Santiago…Three Times

7 Mar

One. I saw it this past Sunday, March 4th, in the film ‘El Camino’ (‘The Path’).  Four pilgrims were going down the Way of St. James*.  For diverse reasons, they form a team, bring their lives together, and after many prayers, discover a compass to their new lives.  It turns out that sometimes literature and film act like metaphors for real life, but sometimes reality mimics fiction invented by the dreams of human beings. There is nothing like a starting point and a goal, even if the goal is not well defined, and even if, from the beginning, we do not know where we are heading to.  There are occasions in which the path itself is the goal.  There are no more surprises than the path taken.  There is no other prize.

Two. This upcoming 26th of March, thousands of Cubans will stand before the ‘Antonio Maceo’ Plaza of the Revolution in Santiago de Cuba.  At 5:30 pm, his Holiness Benedict XVI will speak to those present about Faith and Hope.  According to the official note published by the Conference of Catholic Cuban Bishops (COCC), it will be a spiritual trip and there may be certain pressures moving against the Catholic Church, according to the spokesperson of Archbishop Orlando Marquez, whom references certain chess pieces being moved by restless sectors of civil society. A few days ago, Marquez mentioned the letter sent to His Holiness by a group of Cuban dissidents, among them Guillermo Farinas, so that the Pope cancel his visit or, that if he does not, that he at least meet with representatives of the non-violent opposition and of civil Cuban society.  Amid the episcopal informational coldness, which assured that matters of human rights and politics will not be discussed, diverging voices have emerged in regards to the possible meeting between Benedict XVI and the former chief of government Fidel Castro.  The point of discord resides in that the representative of Rome will listen to the arguments of an ex-soldier, an ex-dictator, and does not want to meet with a sector of the “suffering world”.

Three. For more than two months now, hundreds of women from the Laura Pollan Ladies in White Movement are being harassed, attacked, and arbitrarily detained for trying to go on their own “Path to Santiago” each Sunday- their pilgrimage amid very difficult circumstances which include the most brutal repression unleashed by the police and the compliance of local authorities in places as diverse as Havana, Perico in Matanzas, Holguin, or Palma Soriano.  For some, the answer is yes, while for other it is no.  In the face of such a situation, I feel the need to call on the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities of the dioceses as controversial as Holguin-Las Tunas and Guantanamo-Baracoa: these women try to reach Catholic temples, not mosques or spiritualist centers.   Does this not interest the church, the laymen, or, in sum, the community?

When I was putting this post together, images of a mass held for the health of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in the Cathedral of Havana were being flashed across the television screen.  So then… yes for Chavez and no for Orlando Zapata,  Juan Wilfredo Soto, Wilman Villar Mendoza?   Yes to the church, the accredited diplomatic body in Havana and no the Ladies in White?

We must remember that the refusal of help is a crime punished by the penal codes of various countries, and in the case of devout Christians, turning one’s cheek to injustice is a mortal sin.

*Way of St. James- a religious pilgrimage which takes place in Galicia, Spain, where devout Catholics travel to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where many believe the remains of Saint James the apostle lay.


Non-Violence in Cuba: A Particular Case?

3 Mar

I was recently debating with some friends about the methods used by opposition movements around the world which have been successful in tearing down authoritarian regimes.  Some examples were the Serbians who toppled Milosevic, the South Africans who forced the segregationist government to sit alongside Mandela, and the Chileans which put an end to Pinochet by saying NO.  20 years later, we see all of this as something mystical, mythical, and magical.  They attack me for being a dreamer, affirming that we are not the same, and I respond with equally challenging questions: And why are we not the same? Is it because we don’t share similarities?

Based on the testimonies offered by the leaders of the Serbian youth movement known as Optor and the people in general, we know that the citizens of the Balkans did not have any less fear of General Tito and Milosevic than Cubans have of the Castro brothers over here.  As far as I know, for decades, the democratic world ignored the atrocities of the apartheid regime, the Soviet political prisoners, and the assassinations in Romania…the same thing that has happened with Cuba until very recently.

A humble shoemaker from Cracovia refused to collaborate with the Solidarity movement due to fear of losing his only source of income, and that is why he was incapable of “abandoning his life of lies”,  according to Vaclav Havel in La Seguritate in Bucharest.  People would become paralyzed just by seeing an ID card.  “Three armed policemen” closed down a street of Santiago and any Chilean would freeze with terror.  However, one day they all said Enough. And the abuses came to an end.  As far as we have witnessed, the gravest horror has lasted 73 years.  So then, how is it that we are not similar?

In Cuba, a document which was put together and translated by Omar Lopez Montenegro has been going from hand to hand.  It is titled “10 Easy Steps Towards Non-Violence” and it was successfully developed by Optor.  I would like to turn on the fire of this blog’s comment section and I’d like to start intentionally by step number 7 which suggests “inducing desertion in the forces of Security”.  The Cuban regime and  the skeptics of non-violence allude to the fidelity of Cuban troops with the dictatorship, and their subjection to the prebends which one offers to the other, as well as the character of total control which the government of Havana has sold to all its supporters for more than 50 years.

For some of those who took part in the discussion in Santiago de Cuba about a week ago, I remind them that:

A) In either dictatorial governments of Gerardo Machado or Fulgencio Batista, there was not a prison in each province for undisciplined, corrupt, and deserter soldiers as exist today within the Armed Revolutionary Forces (FAR).

B) In 58 years of a Republic, including crimes and excesses, there was never a need for Prevention units to retain and capture fugitive soldiers, as occurs right now with the 16 year old recruits which have just barely stepped out of adolescence and are just joining the General Military Service (mandatory).  Does anyone have the exact statistics of Cuban soldiers and reservists which, in the Castro-organized wars in Africa, deserted or wandered off in those countries and later ended up in the United States or Europe?

Many ask themselves if Cuban soldiers would really use tanks agains the civil population.  What about the police agents who today turn their faces to not be photographed by citizens- what are they hiding?  What do they fear?  Which indirect message are they sending us?