Archive by Author

Being a dissident and a practitioner of Santeria, a difficult path

24 May

The first Cuban vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez visited the headquarters of the Cultural Yoruba Association of Cuba this past Monday, days after the Department of State published a document in regards to religious freedom, which alleges that there have been some advances as far as Cuba’s approach in these matters.

While the second-in-line of the Cuban government was saying goodbye to the babalaos– the Santeria priests- of the official association, throughout the streets of Cuba other Santeria leaders are looked down upon for not joining the organization run by the Office of Religious Affairs, for abiding by other rules, for carrying weapons to carry out animal sacrifices and even for being dissidents, a charge which turns out to be  quite heavy to bear.

Click the link for a full report published on “Marti Noticias”, penned by Luis Felipe Rojas.

Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) joins “The Path of the People”

13 May

Rolando Rodríquez Lobaina (Coordinator of ADO) with Rosa María Payá, of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL)

In a cordial encounter sustained in the capital of the nation, dissident leader Rosa Maria Paya signed an agreement with the General Coordinator of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO), Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, to work together in the promotion of the project, “The Path of the People”.

The idea of working in unity ratifies the intention of various civil organizations in the island to work in favor of democracy and of favorable changes for the people.

“It’s the perfect moment to take important steps that will help the Cuban people to chose new instruments to demand the rights they deserve”, affirmed Lobaina.

The Eastern activist also added in his discourse: “The Path of the People should be taken to everyone, and all other organizations in and out of Cuba that stand up against totalitarianism should support this initiative, an initiative open to everyone”.

Finally, ADO’s coordinator concluded by saying: “The first step which we Cubans should take is to dismantle the law system which restrains the freedoms of all citizens.  Taking this as a starting point, we can then sit to debate about the destiny of the nation, with respect and tolerance”.

 Report by Isael Poveda Silva, Director of independent news agency ADOPRESS.

San German, the Story of a Baseball Accident

15 Jan

I witnessed this during the past Provincial Baseball Series in Holguin province.  The teams San German and Calixto Garcia (Buenaventura) were playing against each other.  I was trying to get a shot of some of the players when I came across this situation and snapped these shots instead, a blow with the ball, one of the most common in baseball, a straight pitch right to the head.

**All photos by Luis Felipe Rojas

The Seat of Rosa Parks

3 Jan

Photo: Raul Garcia

The city of Miami surprised me. Many of its buses pay tribute to someone who is a symbol of defending civil rights in this country. On my daily comings and goings through its neighborhoods, I found that detail. Right behind the bus driver’s seat, there is a small plaque with the details. Miami does it, and so have other cities in the United States, as one day will be done in Cuba with some similar actions.

The fact that Rosa Parks decided, on that afternoon of 1955, not to give up her seat to a white person, ignited the spark among her fellow citizens, leading to known events like the public transport strike in Montgomery. It was a gesture, a pro-active action, an act of non-cooperation, doing. Just like a few women decided to take to the streets of Cuba in 2003, dressed in white and with a flower in hand, or how a group of men have said: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship”. It is these citizen gestures which turn on the motor of grand human actions.

After so much blood has been shed on the island, years of unjust imprisonment, arbitrary detentions, beatings and harassment against political activists and their families, will the definitive spark be ignited? Everything seems to indicate that it will, although sometimes we may lose hope or think that the dictatorship which has governed us for 54 years is eternal. When Laura Pollan screamed in front of the guards: “We are not afraid of you”, when Marta Diaz Rondon and Caridad Caballero shouted at the top of their lungs: “My house is not a prison”, or when Iris Perez Aguilera protested in a small town of Cuba’s interior in front of a radio station because it was only reporting part of the truth, they too were also paying tribute to Rosa Parks. They are also like her. And although they did not have the immediate protection and coverage which the humble lady from Alabama had, there is still the hope that one day they will be acknowledged for their gestures of reasonable rebellion. Against brute force, reason stands firm, Rosa said it: “Freedom is not free”.

Berta Soler. Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

The Grub of Poetry

3 Jan

A long time ago, when we were happy and believed that we could fix the world by debating about baseball, poetry and politics (much time has passed since then), we found the Sancti Spiritus-Santiago de Cuba based poet, Reinaldo Garcia Blanco, who reminded us of the time when Christmas was rationed, with his poem “Very long eulogy” which conjured images of those ‘Bulgarian onions and some Rene Barbier Rosada wine’. Years later, they gave me this same wine as a welcome present to this poetic site known as Miami. The wine, the books, and friendship are a tribute to Reinaldo, Marta Maria Montejo, Rafael Vilches, Carlos Esquivel and many others who believe in the strength of words when some believe in the strength of physical blows and stonings at night. 2013 could be the year of uniting poetry and life, of finally getting fed up with so much silence and so much screaming. I leave you with a fragment of the poem which moved us that one time:

“From Left to Right”

‘With the stare of an angel, there is a woman with a mustache. It’s Frida Khalo, and her hand lies over the shoulder of Trotsky (who brings an apple towards his face), and then there is a Doric column (now it’s in sepia but during the photo it was red). Then there is a man with a firefly on his hand and a tobacco on his mouth (he makes circles of light so we can see in this darkness) and it seems as if he’s giving his back to a girl called Greta Garbo (she is playing with a kite and the hand which comes out of nowhere to snatch the toy from her belongs to Salvador Dali). Towards the back, there is a sign which reads “Proletariats of the world, Unite”. Towards the far right one man adds with a paintbrush: “Last warning”. My memory fails me, but I would bet it was Pablo Picasso. Others follow him, and it seems that they are Russian, Chechnyans, or Quakers…God knows. On the table, there are Bulgarian onions and some “Rene Barbiera Rosado” wines. The girl and the old man are Maria Kodama and Jorge Luis Borges. The one getting down from the cross is Jesus. The one with the Second World War nurse outfit is Isadora Duncan and the one with the faint stair holding a Beatles CD in his hand is Mao Zedong.’

Final Present of 2012

3 Jan

To finish, Garrincha sends out this final present, which makes you want to stay and celebrate.  Thanks to everyone who did the nearly impossible to allow us to be here.  Happy New Year and best vibes for 2013.

Those Black People

3 Dec
Logo reads: "In Cuba, being black is a problem.  But being a black dissidents is a tragedy.  Freedom for all Now!"

Logo reads: “In Cuba, being black is a problem. But being a black dissidents is a tragedy. Freedom for all Now!”

Who threw the chalk? The black guy! You have the nose of a negro.  But, honey, you’re not that black.  Why don’t you smooth down those “curls” so you won’t look so black? Hey, mulatto, you really made those kids of yours ahead of time.  Big-lipped negro.  We black people are only good as musicians or boxers.  Do you remember that Santisteban was the only white boxer of the national selection for a long time?  Hey, lower your voice, this sounds like a house full of niggers.  Man, today I’ve worked more than a slave (black, of course).  Come here, what’s your name? The police approached me and says: “look, nigger, if it weren’t for the Revolution you’d still be cutting sugar cane in San German”.  And in that neighborhood there are a lot of black people.  Oh, they’re black, but they are good people.  These, and thousands of other comments also cast a shadow over being Cuban.  We are patriots, we fight in “a quarter of land”, but we stay quiet before such grotesque and racist expressions such as these, and more… sometimes we repeat them as if nothing happened inside.  We should think about this sometime.

And, about that…who threw the chalk? That black guy. 

David Escalona, the Strength of Urban Hip-Hop

26 Nov

The songs written and performed by the young musician, David Escalona, carry the very essence of a different Cuba. Omni-Zona Franca, the alternative Havana-based art group, launched the political and social quarrels into the world, and they carry a certain magic. On the night of Saturday, November 24th, I went to go see him once again. He was radiant, as he has been in the best of his concerts. The urban themes, such as survival, the banishment of living- as they have said themselves- in Alamar, a ghost city, or the repression to which they have been subjected for quite some time, are the best of incentives. The ingredients of their poetry of resistance immediately flourish in themes which include social exclusion, political intolerance, and the most refined methods of apartheid in contemporary Cuba.

From the moment the concert opened David explained the main motive of that night: to have a good time amongst young Cubans of other latitudes who had met up in that cosmopolitan city known as Miami. However, after the accustomed courtesy, this versatile artist asked for his concert-goers to pay close attention when he said, loud and clear, that he was dedicating that concert to his friend and compatriot Antonio Rodiles, who is still detained in a police station of Havana for daring to demand justice from the olive-green authorities. With the song “Dare and You Will See“, he started the party.

He’s an exceptional musician who walks on a slippery bridge of governmental confrontation and turns art into a useful tool, used to raise some fists, the will of the non-conformists. In an interview through Skype, he explained that he makes “free-hop” because he considers himself to be a free man, because when we are convinced of our cause “no one can take anything from us, no one can give us anything. Freedom is in us and no one can take that way”. The concert was enriched by the vocal talent of Soandry, the creator of Hermanos de Causa (‘Brothers in Cause’), that duo which shook the days of Havana as well as the improvised rap and hip-hop festivals of the 90’s in the island. The Cuban soul of right now vibrated this past Saturday in Downtown Miami. An extraordinary David stood in the small concert hall, and said on various occasions, “do not fall asleep, there is always an enemy”. This time, he dedicated all his urban strength and talent to a friend, to that same Rodiles who so many people want to see free from the iron bars and barbaric treatments. That is David- contradictory, luminous, and energetic like a flash of light in the darkness.

Malcom, the Generous Hand

21 Nov

It’s Monday the 19th, and it is the first day of school in the United States for my son Malcom. They have placed him in an excellent educational center. It is a preview of our lives here, but at the same time it somehow also connects with what we left behind. No one asked us for our party affiliation, and there was not a single director who demanded to see our proof of social integration. This is a sharp contrast, which we will be grateful of for the rest of our lives.

What makes me the happiest of this course which he has continued 90 miles from his first home is that he doest not have to lift his hand and put his thumb on his forehead and say that he wants to be like someone. In Cuba, when told, all students must repeat at the top of their lungs “Pioneers for Communism!”, and “We Will be like Che Guevara!” Here, they want him to be like himself, what they wish to see in his attitude is his capacity to demonstrate his talent and physical and intellectual abilities. This morning, he raised his hand to offer it in friendship to dozens of children from three continents. He made some cartoon drawings and excitedly brought them home. It was a new day, with no necessities to read him a manual about heroes chosen by a few, nor will they ask him to praise what he does not want.

A tricolor soccer ball rolled bounced off the ground and the steps of my son walked towards the field like someone searching for the world, with strength, with reasons and with desires of being the man who had his dreams interrupted a few years ago, but who stars again now as a simple schoolboy that will offer his generous hand and not a scream, a kick, or a slogan.

Rodiles, Targeted by the Regime

12 Nov

Two opposite dynamics have had to change their actions in order to prevail: government repression and the peaceful opposition.  Everyday Cubans have taken up arms with new technologies, they have supported each other with the scarce glimmers left behind by the inefficient Constitution of the Republic, while the oppressors have had to beat them out on the street without consideration, leaving themselves to be photographed by anonymous citizens and assimilating the political cost before international public opinion.

The recent temporary detentions, beatings and interrogations against a large number of Cuban dissidents have revealed two important aspects between non-conformist citizens and guarantors of the old Stalinist power.  The victims protested in front of an important department of the Ministry of the Interior in the Cuban capital.  On one hand, it has been proven that the intensity of the beatings against them is the same, while the dissidents have combined the most useful of diffusion tools to spread their message, and  their membership has been increasing.

In the scuffle which State Security started this past 10th of November, there was a well-known writer, various lawyers (three of whom were detained and taken to dungeons), a scholar, a blogger known to the entire world, five former political prisoners from the group of the 75 (The Black Spring of 2003), the 2010 Sakharov Award Recipient, various human rights activists, and Antonio G. Rodiles, the director of the independently produced TV show Estado de Sats, which was recently nominated for an Emmy.

In other words, the group of detainees represented a large range of social disagreement happening right now.

Rodiles…the new repressive wave.

At this point in time, many ask themselves why the aggressions against Antonio Rodiles.  What did the prudent political police officials find in this restless intellectual?  The Citizen Demand for a Another Cuba could have gone by as just another initiative, but the restrictive claws of the high ranks of the Military’s Counter-Intelligence do not want to take any more chances.

The Citizens’ Demand for Another Cuba, which demands that the government ratify the covenants it signed at the UN in 2008 and “immediately put the legal and political guarantees in practice,” in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has gained the support of diverse sectors of the dissidence in Cuba.  In this manner, with each passing day more Cubans in and out of the island are supporting it — a detail which rapidly gains support.

Rodiles, a young intellectual, devised a way to report and shed light on the most diverse of thoughts and anti-Castro activism through filmed interviews in his home.  The “televised programs” of Estado de Sats are filmed and edited in a beautiful, yet simple, fashion, without any technological gadgets and as soon as they are uploaded onto channels for massive diffusion such as YouTube, they quickly receive much attention throughout the entire national geography.

Yoani Sánchez… stepping it up to another level.

In the video of the arrest this past 7th of November, one can see precious details of the brutal repression, and there are two aspects which should not be forgotten if one wants to know the current Cuban reality.  The first is that, once again, an anonymous citizen filmed high-ranking soldiers during an operation.  The second factor is that the repressive actions are being accompanied by a face, and in that sense, the blogger Yoani Sanchez carries a fundamental weight.

Known for her brief writings in the most popular blog in the Spanish-speaking world, Yoani has been the protagonist of courses and workshops about the tools of the modern technological world, and of citizen empowerment.

That brief video of an Immigration official, lacking arguments, notifying her that she had no Exit Permit for leaving Cuba, went around the world.  Yoani was inaugurating the sessions of cyber-victims, promoting (nearly online) her outrage.  Without a doubt, the strategists of the Cuban Intelligence fell in the trap of a haughtiness which they did not need and with which they cast blame on themselves.

The husband of the dissident blogger, journalist Reinaldo Escobar, being pushed by a mass of braggarts with lynching licenses was another episode for which he and Yoani supplied the architecture.  Escobar challenged a notable operation and posted himself, like a neighborhood kid on a central street of the capital, to await his ‘opponent’ and this time turned the screw: the accredited media outlets in Havana filmed and projected the images of these government sponsored repressive acts against a defenseless citizen to the world.  Once again, Yoani Sanchez was pulling the strings, and moving the chess pieces.

When a well-known independent journalist revealed his ties to the political police, Cuban television let loose its machinery of propaganda and aired a series of documentaries titled “Cuba’s Reasons,” where they exhibited photos, videos, and other testimonies about the Civic Resistance.  As a response, the author of Generation Y took it to another level and created an improvised television studio in her house.  She  started to publish interviews with members of civil society which she put in the series known as “Citizen’s Reasons,” revealing the freshest of faces and thoughts of those confronting the old military dictatorship.

They seem like small skirmishes, but with her actions Yoani Sanchez has received  the same amount of praise outside of Cuba as slanders published by former president Fidel Castro, as well as an acceptance among the important actors of the Cuban opposition, acknowledging that she has opened a crack, a path paved by legitimate appropriations of civic tools which have always been there but which the dictatorship has criminalized.

The act of a citizen publishing the face of repression in Cuba from his/her cell phone arms the arguments against the regime’s henchmen.  It is not an invention of the famed blogger, but it was she who put it in practice, which consecrates her in the history of the Civic Resistance on the island.