Archive | August, 2013

My First Book in Exile / Luis Felipe Rojas

29 Aug

FEEDING THE FIGHTING DOG, new poems by Luis Felipe Rojas. Now for sale on Amazon.

Poster designed by Rolando Pulido (cover designed by Idabell Rosales).

Here is the link for my book, “Feeding the Fighting Dog,” published by NeoClub Press under the direction of Armando Añel and the talented hands of Idabell Rosales. This poster would not have been possible without the work of Rolando Pulido, under the original cover. My first book in the land of liberty. Thank you, everyone who has bought it, you have been very generous. In a couple of weeks we will be giving a public presentation, which will be dedicated to my brother in prison, Angel Santeisteban. What better homage could I make for a colleague who continues writing and doesn’t stop telling the truth, no matter where he is.

Translated by Regina Anavy

11 March 2013

Connect to Facebook, Connect to Cuba

26 Aug

Screen shot taken of the conversation with these “friends” on Facebook.

Accused of being frivolous and made for gossip and rumors, Facebook, the well-known and so active social page, could be affecting in an unusual way a community thirsty to share information inside and outside the island.

A live messenger of information flow in many directions benefits young people inside as well as outside Cuba. Well into the night on Sunday we can talk with some about the impact of this social network on those who have been left inside the information corral. They sent their answers over here through mobile devices at odd times and with the imprint of a Facebook “chat.”

Claudia del Río

A social activist living in Miami, she supports pro-democracy changes believes there is something positive in the exchanges. “First, the active community is composed of many ages and different interests, although statistics could make us believe that 45% are interested and follow the issue of Cuba and part of the informed dissidence, they come to share the news but don’t go any further. There are 15% who are interested in helping and bring a little push to organize themselves, to do something and set aside the concern that something has to be done but they don’t know how to do it.

“They could do many things to help and to create an extremely strong network that could even become uncontrollable by the Cuban Government, but they lack that spark of desire and discipline, and working on a single project to bring about a solution that is in our hands.”

Ted Henken

A specialist in communication and Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, he believes that yes, there is a real impact that can already be measured, “Because FB functions as our modern agora. It is a meeting place for many people with frivolities but also causes and sacrifices. The major problem in Cuba is the lack of access and the monitoring.”

Aimel Ríos

He is an expert in international relations and assistance and solidarity projects for ’people in need’. He is active on social networks, believing that the impact of a network like FB within Cuba helps “to have their voices heard in the world, they can speak for themselves. The virtual community is a bridge between the real Cuba on the island and the real community at the global level.”


She is an active young woman with a very visible militancy in Miami when it comes to the cause of freedom for Cuba. In the photos she uploads to her FB wall she appears alongside singers like Raudel (Escuadrón Patriota/Patriot Squadron) or Amaury Gutiérrez, or with human rights activists like Berta Soler. The activities she participates in she shares on Facebook.

“Social networks are free spaces to express yourself. Plus, they have the potential to be a bridge for communication from there (Cuba) to here, and here to there. I think it can help revive the interpersonal relations that have been lost through distance. Also it’s super-effective for spreading information. For example, when a dissident is being attacked there. Look, when there was an outbreak of cholera in Cuba… here we first heard about it through social networks, principally through FB.

“Also, due to the boomerang effect… many Cubans on the island also got that information. The flow of information benefits all of us, those there and those here, because we know that the official media are biased and say whatever they want whenever they want. Those of us from here also have a commitment to disseminate what comes out of there.”


(Lives in Cuba and only connects to the web when supportive friends allow it.)

“A social network like FB would definitely affect the island. The social purpose of the network inexorably coincides with the desires and the most primordial thirst for information that we Cubans have: family, neighbors, friends and all those “disappeared” from these geographic boundaries could return to us, those inside, as if by magic.

“For me, going to FB and writing a name os some friend or relative I barely remember, or browse among friends of friends, or among the suggestions on the site and see faces you barely remember and to return to them in this incredible little window of a message that is stronger than a hug and add them to your friends and see what they do every day, their photos, even their jokes… then Amsterdam or Monte Video are no longer those impossible places, where people are lost from pur memories without a word, perhaps another language, other times, but no longer this forgetfulness they condemn us to.”

3 June 2013

The Afrocuban, Past and Present in Cuba

23 Aug

The 12th edition of the magazine Blogger Cubano is already on the street. It is a special edition of more than 80 pages dedicated to the Afrocuban topic — with particular emphasis on the current institutional racsim in Cuba — and a color photo gallery, full size unfolded, from Luis Felipe Rojas and Orlando Luis Pardo. The issue contains texts by Juan F. Benemelis, Miguel Cabrera Peña, Leonardo Calvo Cárdenas, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Darsi Ferret, Ángel Escobar, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Luis Felipe Rojas, Ángel Velázquez Callejas, Roberto Zurbano and Armando Añel.

“May 2013 marked the 101st anniversary of the assassination of the leadership of the Independents of Color Party, an event that decisively conditioned the process of racial integration, doomed in Cuba after its independence from Spain,” the editor write in the introduction to the issue. “Simultaneously, and still hanging in the air, is the latest event of institutional racism on the island, which occurred in the spring of this year, 2013: the dismissal of Roberto Zurbano (whose case is directly addressed in the section The Controversy), former director of the Editorial Fund of the House of the Americas, after publishing an article in the New York Times critical of the reality of Cubans of African descent. In this context, and given the importance for the future of Cuba, Blogger Cubano has taken on this topic in this special issue. “

19 August 2013

Childcare Centers are Almost a Luxury

15 Aug

The possibility of getting a place for a child in a childcare center in Cuba has become a real search for the impossible. The small capacity in these nurseries, the bad food, and the reduction in the requirements of admission for women who work in the ministries of Public Health and Education make many see that goal as a chimera.

The childcare centers and kindergartens were implemented at the beginning of the ’60s, so that Cuban parents could work without worrying about the care of their kids. But in the last years, these educative centers have been converted into something exclusive, above all in some interior regions of the country where approximately one exists in each municipality.

Without the syndicate’s recommendation, the support of the Federation of Cuban Women and other sources that have leverage, it’s impossible to obtain a space in these places.

Mildred Sánchez, a nurse who resides in the coastal municipality of Antilla, in Holguín Province, could never put her kids in a childcare center since she had not graduated.

“The solution now are the girls who haven’t gone to university and don’t have work, so they take care of children,” says Mildred.

These youngsters “take care of children less than one year because the mothers have to work, and they go with them and take care of the babies. Here on my block live two 16-year-old girls who are taking care of babies, one has three babies in her house and the other has four,” she affirms.

The alternative of private nurseries first passed by the rigor of state inspectors,

who fined those who ran them, until the last attempts at reform included them as a mode of “self-employment.”

In the capital, an employee of these nurseries can earn a salary of almost 40 CUC a month, and, in addition, they are guaranteed a free lunch.

In Antilla, where Mildred lives, there is a childcare center, divided into two parts, “one in front of the other. They are the private homes of people who have emigrated from the country,” Mrs. Mildred Sánchez concludes.

Yanisleidis Rodríguez, a mother in Havana, is a worker and a dissident at the same time. She has a black mark against her, and it would be impossible for her to get a place in a childcare center. “Before being in this (she is referring to the opposition), I didn’t have the right, and now I have even less,” she remarked. She has two children, one who is 7 and another who is 4.

“To think that I worked in Provincial Education and even so they wouldn’t give me a place for my children. There with me were mothers who spent many years working in Education and had to pay a person to take care of a child so they could work,” she indicated.

Corruption has penetrated this sector, as Yanisleidis recounts, who asserts that mainly being a director or having a good recommendation makes it possible to obtain the precious placement for a child in these places.

The concern over enrollment for the children of Yuliet Pérez, a resident in Pinar del Río and an ex-worker at the Provincial Hospital Abel Santamaria, came up against a concrete wall.

“When I had my first girl I asked and never got a reply,” she says, and she adds that neither were there careers for educators in childcare centers, which also affected the availability of these services.

From Havana, the independent journalist Álvaro Yero Felipe denounced on the Digital Spring website that “six workers in a childcare center in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality sent a letter to the National Director of the Ministry of Education in Havana, where they accused the administration of the center of diverting food and economic resources and materials meant for the children,” said the publication.

Yero reported that the incident took place in the Luxil childcare center, located in Arroyo Naranjo, and the letter related the diversion of “resources that the government received from foreign humanitarian organizations for the children who are boarding there, under state authority because they don’t have families.”

The children are under state custody, and their principal support is the agency of security and protection, SEPSA, and they are not older than five years of age.

Translated by Regina Anavy

25 June 2013

A Dirty Text on This Wall / Luis Felipe Rojas

14 Aug

Text and Photos: Nilo Julián González Preval

Today begins a series of photographs and texts from the experimentalist artist, Nilo Julián González Preval. My blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire opens its windows to the artists and writers on the island. On this occasion Nilo presents us with a text, which is nothing more than a photo-reportage on daily life, “if you want it and believe it,” he told us from Havana.

“Today I went to visit your aunt. I don’t know why this week I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. How can you live well in Holguin? She is fine. As fine as you can be in an institution of blankets and loneliness. I brought her a pudding and some sweets. A soft drink of mate. I slipped when I was getting out of the truck and looked to see who was laughing. The first one to laugh was going to get it. Gracefulness was what cost me our divorce. Is she very nice? She doesn’t ask me for anything. That is how people lie and lie without any reason. I know that you told me the truth. That you went, and I am grateful to you for the sincerity, although my heart was broken, until Miguel appeared, and it’s not that he is a watchmaker but he took me out of the hole and we could both advance. Are you following what is going on with the Party and politics? In the factory they’re talking about a Chinese boat that Cuba was hiding to make war in America and for the trafficking of arms and other things. I know that this separates us. I was thinking only of the family and about food for our children. As for their education…my politics is a united family and some children who will know that, for me, homeland means the love of my children. Their kisses every morning.

“What is her name? If you ask me to I’ll send you dulce de leche with your cousins who are truckdrivers.

“A big kiss.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

12 August 2013

Photo-report: A Demonstration in the Middle of Miami

14 Aug

The activist, Jesús Alexis Gómez, during an hour of rest, showing symptoms of fatigue.

I have just come from the corner of 13th Ave. and 8th Street in the heart of Little Havana. There the activist for human rights, Jesús Alexis Gómez, and the leader of the Democratic Movement, Ramón Saúl Sánchez, have been carrying out for 17 and 10 days, respectively, a hunger strike. Their goal is to call the world’s attention so that the Governor of the Bahamas frees and stops torturing the Cubans who are detained there, when they arrived on the coast in search of a longed-for liberty.

Alexis converses with his brothers in struggle.

Ramón Saúl interacts with the activists.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez took advantage of the occasion to exchange words with his organization’s activists and give instructions about the strategy to be followed. In the state in which he finds himself, he writes his opinions about the boycott of the Bahamas and the purpose of the strike.

The leader of the Democratic Movement continues his work to call for the world’s attention and solidarity with the prisoners now in the Bahamas.

An activist, upon leaving church this Sunday, went to the tent to offer a Christian prayer for the strikers and the prisoners in the Bahamas.

Posters, placed in public view.

Many visitors pass by without asking, although their curiosity is aroused.

…but others arrive and ask about the reason for the strike.

The activists help expand the space and put up signs.

The demands go from the cessation of torture to the unconditional release of the detainees in the Bahamas, without sending them back to Cuba.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

4 August 2013

Prayer for Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) / Luis Felipe Rojas

14 Aug

God bless you, Madiba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

27 June 2013

I Have Two Homelands

14 Aug

Reinaldo Arenas, the genial writer from Holguin, the dissident against all the banners he saw fluttering before his path. Those homelands of Marti that he could rewrite, Cuba, his immense sorrow, and the night, that friend who accompanied him up to that final hour in which we all find ourselves.

I have two homelands: Cuba and the night.

By Reinaldo Arenas

Both plunged in a single abyss.

Cuba or the night (because they are the same).

They both confer the same reproach

In the foreign land, of a braggart ghost.

Until your own fright is an illusion,

A lost wheel of a foreign coach

that rushes into a cataclysm

where breathing is itself a waste.

The sun has no light and it would be cynicism

that the time you were living was for loveliness.

If that is the homeland (the homeland, the night)

that has left us centuries of egoism,

I await another homeland, that of my madness.

*Translator’s note: The title of this poem is the first line of a poem by José Martí, titled “Two Homelands.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

24 July 2013

The Hungers That Kill Me / Luis Felipe Rojas

4 Aug

“Fly without fear” series, by Luis Felipe Rojas

It was the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges who said “To organize libraries is to silently practice the art of critique.”  In the past few months I have also dedicated myself to organizing  ’my library,’ but backwards, the library of books which I maybe had one day, or that I dreamed of there, inside, when I was behind the wires.

I imagine the independent journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo, in that Havana that fell to pieces reading all of Kundera, or whatever had become his latest obsession, chewing to pieces the best Polish poets.  Or the sharp chronicler Luis Cino with a universal encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, illustrated, with thin columns on the right, in grey, explaining the footnotes.

Now I have two hungers, mine and that of my friends.


A long time has passed since the poet Antonio José Ponte didn’t have to send me the magazine Letras Libres from Havana, when some writer friend went to the capital. Thanks to the persistence of Ponte I’ve seen the best portrait of Tijuana, laid out in Letras Libras from the hand of Juan Villoro. Letras… he said in that long ago 2000, “Only a chronicler of the likes of Juan Villoro, author of the The Eleven of the Tribe and Palm Trees in the Quick Breeze, is capable of capturing in all its infinite nuances a city so strange, repellent and fascinating as Tijuana.” In a village in the interior of Cuba we also reconstruct that city of gunshots, visit its bars and marvel at its magnificent graffiti.

Now that the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban is imprisoned some shout themselves hoarse saying they are his friends or that they enjoyed his friendship … or they deny it, as a young Havana writer did recently. I enjoyed the goodness of ’Angelito’ on a rainy afternoon in 2006.

Santiesteban gave me a coffee that afternoon, was united with me in those days when, by a ministerial order (of Culture or Interior, or both), I was excluded from the literary life of my country and extending the hand of friendship, he told me to pick a couple of books from the shelves in his home. I had savored quickly a pocket edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote, and that enduring gem Men Without Women, by our Carlos Montenegrao.I hestiated to ask for them, they were new, just arrived from Spain, but Angelito put them in my backpack and even the sun of today.

Maria Montejo Martah taught me to read Hector Abad Faciolince without lapsing into sentimentality, and Michael Hernandez Miranda told me to read everything by Cabrera Infante without becoming a fanatic, a chauvinist who goes around rubbing everyone’s nose in the the fact that Reinaldo Arenas and Gaston Baquero were born in Holguin. I admit I have overcome it a bit.

Today’s specials

It was Ricardo Piglia who said that literature is not transmitted from parents to children if not from aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews, and it was my uncle Gabriel who gave me the César Vallejo there was in Cuba, that lean edition from the Casa de las Americas in the ’80s. A week ago I bought his Complete Poems and it is now ready to enter Cuba.

A professor of Arts in Camagüey has entrusted me with all of Stanley Kubrick as if he were going to kill himself and I downloaded his movies, television interviews dubbed in Spanish and put them on DVDs, along with two specialized magazines, and recently I had news of cinematic soirees held among friends.

When the Universal Library was releasing their jewels at hamburger prices, I want and bought, for my friend Cecilia Torres, El salón del ciego, Las sombras en la playa and La ruta del mago, from the late Carlos Victoria. Now that summer is raging over Santiago de Cuba, Cecilia has written to tell me I’ve saved her from the atrocious reggaeton weekends in the neighborhood, and to thank me, which I pass on to Juan Manuel Salvat who had the patience to save Cuba in such a small space.

These are requests I’ve fulfilled. They are hungry others to fill them up through the long nights of prohibitions. This must be done before life comes to a close, or others come and give us the bad news about the printed book, the uselessness of paper or the ecological disaster we’re living in.

Before I crossed the barbed wire, people came to my house who, before getting off the plane, had collected all the popular editions, the fashions magazines, first aid catalogs, brochures, in short everything printed distributed by the airlines, which would all be outdated in a few months, but in a closed country it was received as if it had just come off the presses.

Now I thank everyone who helped me, and there’s nothing left for me but to imitate them if I can save one minute in the lives of those who were left there, in that feared and beloved hell that is Cuba.

15 July 2013

The Banned Book in Cuba

2 Aug

I am in search of the forbidden book, like the Golem, or like the treasure of Eternal Youth. Why does a presidential, dictatorial or authoritarian edict decide to ban, hunt down and remove a book from a country. Faced with these questions I went looking with my Facebook friends and put an invitation on the forum what was sure would always be rich in nuances.

Then the ex-prisoner politician  Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta showed up, along with the activist and now professor Osmel Rodriguez to accentuate the absurdity of such literary persecution. “Of the most censored books is at ’The Big Scam’ from Eudocio Ravines, also books by Adam Michnik, Milan Kundera, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with the ’Gulag Archipelago’, dozens and dozens,” said Herrera Acosta.

For his part, Rodriguez believes, that “Not only are studies of Cuba banned, but even so many novelists, some for not applauding the Cuban system and others for having escaped the island, I can make a little list …”

I have no idea about how, how much and what was prohibited in the early ’60s, but I do know that in the ’80s, when they returned, students and collaborators coming and going from what they called the Socialist countries, they brought quite a bit of literature not very welcomed by the Communist Party bosses. As the nineties started they knew what books were “inconvenient” and they were the motive for raids on the homes of peaceful opponents.

A brief investigation lets us know that the so-called “bible of opponents,” The Power of the Powerless, by Vaclav Havel, “How the Night Came,” the autobiography of Major Huber Matos, magazines such as “The Universal Dissident,” “ Encounter of Cuban Culture,” “Hispanic Cuban Magazine,” and the books of Carlos Alberto Montaner, Rafael Rojos, all swelled the “NO” book list.

My specific question for my followers on Facebook was this: “They say the book most wanted in Cuba by the political police is “The Wasp Network .”  What books are banned in Cuba? What have they been since 1959? How have Cubans mocked censorship to get the banned books? Hubert Matos with his “How the Night Came”? “1984″ by George Orwell? Or those of Cabrera Infante Gillermo”?

This gave me the ability to create virtually online, to get writing and sharing with my readers and friends while they entered the messages in a network that is called frivolous and dull.

Ramon H. Colas, known in Cuban for having created, along with Berta Mexidor, the Independent Libraries, said that “more than the ban on the books has always been the policy of censorship against authors, which means that all of their work, in fact, is banned in the country. Bertrand Russell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Paul Johnson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera, Eudocio Ravines and Juan Carlos Onetti, are, among many, some of the writers banned by official censorship in Cuba,” which makes the list more controversial.

It’s just an outline of the ban, which applies to the authors, the persecuted, the modus operandi of the persecutors and creepers and a small ranking of proscribed titles, where we certainly find The Wasp Network (about 12 agents, not 5, who acted in service to Havana on American soil) or History Will Absolve Me, that cache of Fidel Castro promises never entirely fulfilled. As Cabrera Infante said, it is not a brief, and not a brave list.

31 July 2013