Archive | June, 2014

Children Screaming / Armando Añel, Luis Felipe Rojas

30 Jun

About 30 members of the Cuban opposition,belonging to the illegal Partido Popular Republicano, throwing flowers into the sea in memory of the victims of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”. Archive photo (martinoticias.com)

By Armando Añel

What happened can be briefly summarised: on July 13th 1994 – 17 years ago today – at the crack of dawn, 72 people tried to escape from the island in a tug. When they were some 12 km from the coast of Havana, three other tugs charged the vessel, spraying high pressure water jets over its occupants. In succession they targetted the 13 de Marzo – which was now flooded – until it gave up the ghost, broke up and sank, with a total of 41 fatal victims, 23 of them children, including a 6 month old baby.

Up to now, the Castro government has not shown the slightest willingness to clarify what, from the start, it termed “an accident”. In the Granma daily newspaper, ten days after it sank, an article appeared – signed by Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez – where it said that, among other things, “a group of company workers took direct action to defend its interests. They informed the Coastguard of the crime and took it upon themselves to prevent them getting away.” Earlier, the same newspaper had argued that “in order to obstruct the theft (referring to taking the 13 de Marzo), three MITRANS boats tried to intercept it, and while they were manoeuvring in order to achieve that, the unfortunate accident occurred, in which the vessel sank.”

Since then, the tone of the sporadic explanations given by the government has remained the same:  we were dealing with an irresponsible act of  piracy promoted by the “counter revolution” , in the face of which people took the law into their own hands.  Obviously, goes the official line, the “people” taking the law into their own hands is nothing punishable.  As long as things turn out in their favour, any crime is justifiable.

It’s clear that the official version gives rise to various questions. If we were looking at a spontaneous, uncoordinated action, why were various tugs waiting at the entrance to the bay  on 13th March, at the crack of dawn? And why tugs exactly, a type of boat which lends itself perfectly to intercepting fugitives ? Why did these lookouts let the vessel continue on its flight? Why did the interception take place some seven miles off the coast, exactly where it could not be spotted  from the land by unwelcome witnesses, but while still in Cuban waters?  And how was it possible that, having been informed about the escape from the start, the coastguard  speedboats  delayed for an hour and twenty minutes before turning up at the scene, after the massacre had taken place?

But all these questions become irrelevant when you frame the fundamental question: why don’t they try the case to clarify once and for all if what happened was an accident or a crime? Because, if it was the first, the urgent, reasonable and normal course is to put the people involved in front of a judge, a defence lawyer and a prosecutor, in order to see justice done. That’s what happens when any traffic accident occurs, especially if there are fatalities:  they don’t take the driver’s innocence as a given; they investigate first. And, in Cuba, since 1959, the accused have to prove their innocence.

Meanwhile, the 13th March massacre of the tug – more than that of Canimar, Cojimar, Guantánamo base, etc., – has become lodged in the  collective memory  of those who are exiled and even of many of  those who are stuck on the island. The image is horrific: a young woman protects her baby from the Castro regime’s high-pressure jets of water, while she shrieks, almost in a whisper “they are going to kill the children …they are going to kill the children … “. She surrendered, but to no purpose. She surrendered , and her executioners mocked her. She surrendered, but in an island’s memory, it is exodus and memory, escape and perennial return, the Tug does not surrender.

The screaming of the children continues to shake our ears.

Translated by GH

25 June 2014

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Prats Sariol: “To Write About the Cuban Reality is a Duty” / Luis Felipe Rojas

24 Jun

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I hadn’t seen José Prats Sariol since 1997, when he offered a lecture on Phenomenology in the conference room of the School of Arts at the University of Havana. Seventeen years later he came to Miami to talk about the great poet Gaston Baquero, at the invitation of the Pen Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, and Saturday afternoon, June 14, he spoke to us of Gaston… and Cuba. The author of the novel Mariel (1997), the studies contained in Criticizing the critic (1983), The Artizada Matter, and others, presented the talk Gastón Baquero, poetic singularity.

“The fact that Gastón (an anti-communist, labeled with the epithets of ’Batista supporter’ and ’Franco supporter’) wrote a seminal text like “With César Vallejo in Paris — when it rains” is a ’singular’ event, if we see that Vallejo was a community who was the direct opposite — ideologically — of the Cuban who had to go into exile, after the pressures put on him by the ’Cuban Revolution,’” said Prats Soriol.

“Both lived in the same street, in the same block, on the same sidewalk in Madrid that harbored them, and only a sensitivity so high, this singular detail, would make one find the other. The singularity is that in this small deviation in which you say: this is different, it makes it singular. It is one of the problems of poetry today, and it greatly resembles that,” he said.

1402916596_img_0584The meeting featured the voices of the poets Orlando Rosardi and Angel Cuadra reading a poem by Baquero. At the end of each piece Sariol talked about the author of “Discourse of the Rose in Villalba,” about how Gastón came to Origins Magazine and how he later influenced the poets who followed him. But for Cuba, the current professor at the University of Arizona, offered an aside.

Cuba is a duty

Cuba is the passion of this Doctor of Philology who has crossed the waters, the classrooms from Havana, Mexico to disembark with his lessons and poetic approximations “in the Arizona desert.” However, he admits that he would like to bring the map of everything produced on the island.

“Sadly, many things escape me, books, authors. I could talk with a certain authority about the generation of Origins, the generation of the 30s, but when I want to advance a little bit more, for example your generation, I start to slip. And why? Because of ignorance, because I don’t have access to the books. I met Magaly Alabau here in the United States, what ignorance, a critic of Cuban poetry who hadn’t read Magaly Alabau. I never had access to her, I didn’t kow her, although later I read her books, she became my friend.

“Prats, why haven’t you written about Magaly Alabau?”

“Out of ignorance,” I answered myself.

“As long as the dictatorship exists, it’s a duty for me. Of course I respect opinions, that other people aren’t interested, but for me it’s a duty as a Cuban to write and offer my point of view about the situation in Cuba, and I include all Cubans,” he concluded.

16 June 2014

The Trumpet Player’s Sad Ballad / Luis Felipe Rojas

24 Jun

Rogelio Betancourt shows his passport in Castilla Plaza in Madrid, June 2014. / M. G.-R.

According to El Pais, “Rogelio Betancourt Suárez no longer lives on the streets of Morocco. After 11 months of facing the daily uncertainty of knowing whether he will find something to eat or a place to sleep, the Cuban trumpet player has managed to overcome the Stations of the Cross that had become his life. Betancourt has managed, finally, to cross the Spanish frontier and has left behind the legal limbo in which he found himself.”

20 June 2014