Archive | July, 2013

A Free Internet? / Luis Felipe Rojas

24 Jul

The first symptoms of the “free” Internet for Cubans: ETESCA has just informed me that my account has been eliminated and I must wait for a reply from Havana.

Rolando Labaina, July 22, 2013

Translated by Regina Anavy

Oswaldo Payá: The Act of Serving / Luis Felipe Rojas

22 Jul

Note: I published this a year ago and have nothing to say I didn’t say them, I have reposted the text (on the anniversary of his death).

Still dazed and in shock I compose these words to Oswaldo. When I started to get the first messages about Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’s death they were showing the film “War Horse,” and in one of the scenes a soldier leaves his foxhole to save his charger and before the imminence of his death he is praying parts of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as if nothing should be lacking now to someone who is and well be a man-bridge, man-dialog, man-country.

The messages clogged my phone with the hashtag #OswaldoPayá and the mention ©OswaldoPaya. The questions of friends from every corner of the island and of the world. The police cordon at the hospital in Bayama, the details of the fatal incident, the doubts of a witness about a supposed police chase, the construction crews in the middle of the road on the El Naranjo curve. The questions. The answers. The words. The damn words.

It’s difficult to think of Payá and not go back to the now well-known EFE Agency photo where he, Antonio Díaz Sánchez and Regis Iglesia, on that 10th of May 2012, are approaching the site of the National Assembly of People’s Power to deliver the 11,025 signatures of citizens who supported the Varela Project.

There was the map of tomorrow’s Cuba. I say that because now the faces of the three blend together for me with those of hundreds of anonymous opponents, without a visible mark for the “mass media” merrymaking, those who gave birth to and collected these desires.

The most insignificant of the Cuban dissidents saw pass through their hands a form, a copy, or a summary of the range of strategies that Payá wanted to tune into so that Cuba would be different. Along with virtues, defects and contradictions, there was his greatness. The Cuban regime had to move, in an acrobatic high-wire act to the people to amend those articles that gave a glimpse of freedom and that were a dead letter in the Constitution until Oswaldo Payá grabbed hold of them.

The Varela Project was a lever that moved the country

I think of Payá, but also of Osmel Rodríguez (The Chinaman Manicaragua), of Ezequiel Morales and Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, of the Ferrer-García brothers and of the hundreds of Cubans who armed with courage went out through our dark country to seek signatures for the Varela Project, to spark the desire to be free or to dream with this treasure that is freedom.

I didn’t support all of Payá’s initiatives, and for this I won his friendship. The first time we met he listened to my arguments without interruption. In 2007 he invited me to review the draft of something he’d been “cooking up” for months and I still appreciate that gesture, that cunning to get me to participate. From that time he called me and I him.

The first close people who talked to me about him were Father Olbier Hernández and Deacon Andrés Tejeda who described him as a contradictory being, helpful, a rebuilding. They and the way in which the former American president Jimmy Carter in some way presented him on that day in 2002* in the Great Hall of the University of Havana depicted the face of Payá Sardiñas in the tapestry of an inclusive Cuba for everyone. It will come, we will have to find it together.

*Translator’s note: Jimmy Carter was allowed to address the Cuban people on live TV and took the opportunity to praise Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.

22 July 2013

Trial of Anti-Eviction Activist in Old Havana Suspended

16 Jul

The Old Havana Municipal Court suspended the trial of anti-eviction activist  Madelín Caraballo Betancourt, scheduled for the morning of July 10 in Havana, according to statements by the independent journalist Dania Virgen García, who was outside the court along with a twenty human rights activists who were there to show solidarity with Caraballo Betancourt.

All the witnesses came forward to testify in favor of Madelín, accused of public disorder offenses, contempt, incitement to crime and resistance under the Criminal Code, and subject to a sentence three years’ deprivation of freedom.

Defense attorney Amelia Rodriguez Cala, requested the release of Madelín Caraballo arguing that the prosecutor’s request does not correspond to the crimes charged, and that the document issued by the prosecutor presents the assessment that Caraballo “meets with people with antisocial behavior with whom she has no occupational relationship” and that “she has appeared, on countless occasions, to be against the revolutionary process.”

The afternoon before the suspension of the trial several activists were arrested and threatened so they wouldn’t support Caraballo Betancourt, among them Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco. The telephones of some of them had their service cut off, including Madelin’s mother, an old woman of 81 years old.

10 July 2013

They Are Prosecuting an Activist Against Evictions in Old Havana / Luis Felipe Rojas

13 Jul

The opponent Madelín Lázara Caraballo, detained for nine months in a prison for HIV-AIDS sufferers, in San Jose de las Lajas, will be tried Wednesday at the Old Havana municipal court.

She is accused of the crimes of “public disorder, Article 200.1.2, contempt, 144.1, incitement to crime, 202.1.3, and resistance, 143.1, of the Penal Code, for a single and joint sentence of three years imprisonment ,” according to a report released by Major Zeida Hernández González, head of Reeducation of that prison.

Within the Cuban opposition Lázara Caraballo has been principal of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) in Old Havana and a member of the Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) in the Havana municipality.

On numerous occasions Caraballo was present as a Human Rights activist in sites of potential evictions, as confirmed by several activists and independent journalists from Cuba. Martinoticias had access to this evidence through the program Contact Cuba, led by Norma Miranda and Luis Felipe Rojas.

“This crime she is charged with, is because of her constant activism,” says independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia. “Every time there was an eviction in Old Havana, she supported these people. ”

Among the charges Lázara Caraballo now faces are those cited by the prosecutor, who said that “she joins with people whose conduct is antisocial who are not occupationally related” and that “she had shown herself countless times against the revolutionary process.” However, among the witnesses is an administrator at a private business where she worked part-time, and other workers will testify at the trial.

Madelín is a woman suffering from HIV-AIDS, but her case is aggravated because she was two small children, a teenage daughter 13 and a boy 6. The situation at home is bleak.

Her mother, Zoila Betancourt, is 80 and carries all the weight of the family and has not seen her daughter since February.

In an interview with Contact Cuba Zoila said the 13-year-old occasionally visits  Madelín in prison but because of her age she can not travel frequently to the site.

Zoila recalls that on her only visit to the prison to see her daughter, “When I saw her I cried until I left.”

Vladimir Calderón Frías, a HUmanRights activist, accompanied Madelín Caraballo to several activities and believes the authorities have shown her no mercy because she is very aware of the evictions that occur in her environment and the threats that the authorities use against citizens.

Vladimir confirmed with his testimony, the danger that others have seen for the family of this opponent, as her 13-year-old daughter is being raised practically alone, at a time in her life as difficult as adolescence.

Until 2011 Caraballo Betancourt supported the Ladies in White movement, and was arrested several times, beaten and her house was kept under strict police surveillance.

“That is a the reason there is now a prosecution request for three years’ imprisonment,” said Calderon Frias.

9 July 2013

Repression of Dissidents Who Return to the Island

8 Jul

Left to right Juan Antonio Madrazo, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Leonardo Calvo Cardenas

Cuban dissidents Leonardo Calvo Cardenas and Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna were detained on the afternoon of Thursday, June 20, on arriving at the Jose Marti International Airport from Havana.

In conversation with Martinoiticias, Madrazo added that they took his tablet, two Nokia brand mobile phones, two flash drives and a sample of a Pittsburgh daily paper where they reported on his visit to the university in that North American city.

Madrazo Luna said that on arriving at the terminal area several officers from State Security cloaked in uniforms of the Customs General of the Republic, conducted him to an interrogation room on the pretext that he had been selected for a routine check.

In the interview at customs they asked Juan Antonio about his contacts on his tour of the United States and the activities he’d participated in. Faced with these questions, Juan Antonio — who is also a member of the Committee for Racial Integration — told the repressors that all this information was public and at their disposal on various media and social media.

Finally, Madrazo said he is aware of the measures related to racial discrimination and apartheid, to which much of the Cuban population is subjected.

Independent journalist Leonardo Calvo Cardenas said when we stepped ashore officials were interested in his belonging, but he stood firm, warning them he would not stand for the humiliation and confiscation of his things. Calvo said the official retired to consult with a superior and on returning let him go freely without seizing any of his belongings.

Even so, Leonardo Calvo says that he is now involved in an official complaint because when he left the country they confiscated a camera, two flash memories and some works by independent artists that he was taking as gifts for colleagues abroad.

Both Madrazo and Calvo Cardenas agree that repressive measures are connected to racial discrimination and are part of what many call “cosmetic changes” in referring to the tepid reforms of General Raul Castro.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, who returned to Cuba several days ago, was also a victim of the seizure of items, in this case a laptop and two cell phones.

Translated by mlk

21 June 2013

The Dilemma of Lunch in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

5 Jul

Photo: LFRojas-@alambradas

It’s not enough dealing with the high cost of finding products to make lunch for a family of four people. In Cuba, we have to add up the amount needed, the share of sacrifice go find all the products for decent nutrition. If it costs 15 CUC* we’re talking about a disproportionate figure of 375 Cuban pesos*, an amount that far exceeds the minimum wage, fixed at 225 Cuban pesos (or “national money”).

But many Cubans eat lunch every day without including a main dish of the two meets that they most crave, which are pork and chicken. The delicacies of the Cuban table are reserved for the weekend, when family gets together, and they don’t have to work or return to boarding schools.

A pound of rice is 5 Cuban pesos, one of beans (black or red) are 12, and quart of oil is 60 Cuban pesos, or 2.50 CUC. If we include a salad which the majority of times costs more than 10 pesos a pound for  products like tomatoes and avocados. Meat is a side.

For a very scant ration that any woman who has the task of preparing the meals for her home, spices are a vital piece. Right now, a pot’s worth of “full flavor” — a mixture of cumin, garlic and onion — has come to cost 1.50 CUC each.

Currently, a quart and a half of soda costs 25 Cuban pesos or 1.50 CUC, not counting dessert, which many consider a luxury for any Cuban who survives on his salary.

Yuliet Rodríguez Báez, a housewife from Pinar del Rio who also cares for her sick mother, believes that lunch is an odyssey that can’t always be managed gracefully.

Yuliet said that, “A pound of melon is about 12 Cuban pesos, and a pumpkin is about the same. If I manage to buy pork, it could cost me 30 or 40 pesos a pound, which could be 4 steaks.”

Looking for what you need

Maikel Martínez Cruz, an independent photographer who makes a living capturing the happy moments of the locals in Holguin province, thinks it’s madness what lunch costs for four people.

“In Cuba dessert is a luxury food,” he says, and continues, “almost nobody eats dessert because it’s very expensive. A soft drink, a soda, could cost 0.60 CUC each.” In the case of meat, according to Maikal, it’s now a privilege, “If it’s pork, it’s 25 pesos (fat, meat and bone, together), and it it’s chicken, a kilo (2.2 pounds) cost 3.40 or 3.50 CUC, which is not for whole chicken, its only the thigh, no breast, that’s the one we sell here at the ’shopping’.”

In addition to these high prices, consumers have to add “trying to find it,” says Maikal, who concludes, “this can cost you four hours of running around because if you find a place with meats, they have no rice, and so you have to keep going.”

The “complete”

However, most Cubans live their lives eating lunch in the time allowed to them at work, and arrange to have a small snack they bring from home or they see what they can find on the recently opened stands.

A lunch with two-peso croquettes and a soft drink for the same amount; a 5 peso pizza with a natural fruit smoothie are generally the choices of those who have a half hour off from the workplaces or universities where they work.

Although still illegal, services that deliver what is known as a “complete” with a base of rice, beans, mincemeat (or salad), is an option for those spending 10 Cuban pesos in the provinces, but in the capital it can be about 2 CUC a serving.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies, convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (also known as “national money”). Many products are only available in CUCs, but wages are paid in Cuban pesos. The exchange rate is roughly 24 Cuban pesos to 1 CUC, and a CUC is roughly $1 US (it varies and exchange fees can add to the cost). Salaries in Cuba tend to top out around $20 (480 Cuban pesos) a month (even for doctors), though “benefits” can add to that; with the minimum wage set at 225 Cuban pesos (less than $10).

5 July 2013