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Three Al Jazeera Reporters Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Egypt / Luis Felipe Rojas

3 Sep
The three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera.

The three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera.

AFP/ Khaled Desouki. The journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera,  Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, seated in the prisoners’ cell during their trial in Cairo on 29th of August 2015

This Saturday, an Egyptian tribunal sentenced  the three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera to three years in jail,despite the international campaign for their acquittal.

The Australian Peter Greste, the Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and the Egyptian Baher Mohamed were found guilty of having “spread false information” and of having worked in Cairo without the necessary permission.

The judge Hasan Farid also indicated that “they were not journalists” as they hadn’t registered as such with the relevant authorities.

The reporters were accused of having supported by their coverage the Muslim Brotherhood formed by the Islamic President Mohamed Mursi, toppled by the army in 2013.

Fahmy and Mohamed were present at the tribunal and Greste was sentenced in his absence, after having been expelled to Australia in February by presidential decree.

The verdict is “a deliberate attack on freedom of he press” was Al Jazeera’s reaction in a communique.

“The only fair outcome of this case was acquittal” due to the “lack of evidence”, declared Amal Clooney, Fahmy’s lawyer, after the verdict.

Before the hearing, Amal Clooney indicated that there would be meetings with responsible government officials to request, if they should be sentenced, a presidential pardon or expulsion.

Translated by GH

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The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

27 Jul

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultima 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality.

“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”

There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.

An old poem is a new poem

Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.

The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.

Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.

No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.

This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.

Poetry without compromise

I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.

Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.

JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.

Miami, June 5, 2014

Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)

 

Janisset reads portions of her work.

Archived under Cuba.

Translated by GH; and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

6 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