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The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

1 Oct

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez Beaten / Luis Felipe Rojas

13 Jul

Photo: Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, beaten June 11, 2014

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez was beaten on Wednesday, 11 June by a regime partisan. Guerra Perez uploaded a photo to his Facebook account where he appears with contusions on his face.

Guerra Perez is director of the Information Center and Prensa Hablemos (Let’s Talk Press), and in days past had warned about the threats that he was receiving daily. Perez made public the detentions Monday morning of journalist Mario Echevarria Driggs and journalism student Yeander Farres who receives training at Let’s Talk Press.

The independent reporter and director of Palenque Vision, Ramon Olivares Abello, was beaten on 31 May by a “State Security collaborator named Fidelito,” his wife told from the city of Guantanamo.

The director of Let’s Talk Press, Guerra Perez, added a brief message that the known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello also had been beaten on leaving her house on Wednesday.

The telephones cut off by Cuba’s only phone company (the state-run ETECSA), short but continuing detentions, beatings and death threats seem to be the messages that the regime sent to non-conformist Cubans at the same time that the Vice-President of the government, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, insists that the official press should be “more transparent.”

Translated by mlk.

11 June 2014

Cuba: A Land Without Messages From the Afterlife / Luis Felipe Rojas

31 May

The title came from Ramón Tirso, one of the most hardened and prolific lecturers that I know on the whole Island. Tirso has spent time in three Cuban universities, studying the most disparate careers among them. From physics to art education, with a stop in pedagogy of the English language (today he speaks four languages), my friend from Camagüey complains about the lack of connection between our country and the rest of the world.

Precisely now that international borders are being erased thanks to the information highway, the country is locked up tight as a drum. Every day Cuban writers (those eternal ambassadors) communicate less and less with the living centers of international literature. The entrenchment of the so-called engaged intellectuals, owing to their affiliations with the ideological apparatus of Havana, has rendered them truly unknown among their peers beyond the seas.

Let’s take for example Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s “most successful representative today.” Translated into 18 languages, Padura’s novels are displayed on the shelves of the libraries of prestigious universities, the author is received by important academies of letters but he is unable to be an interlocutor to bring a message to his followers there in the island.

The novels of the author of The Man Who Loved Dogs are sold in our country at a rate of a few hundred copies in the increasingly unattractive Havana Book Fair… and “if I’ve seen you, I don’t remember”, according to the refrain (in other words, I don’t want to remember). The numerous literary prizes (including the National Literature Prize), decorations or even privileged appearances in the only three national newspapers, do not give him a million readers. The only million copies distributed in Cuba are those on the “ration card.”

With an emissary like this, we are perfect strangers.

Warming the arm

Each people needs to stretch its tongue, run it along through the world’s trails so that they know how their village speaks, and in their village they may know what paths their thinkers retrace.  How can they live decades without the interviews, the fears and descriptions of the creative processes of a Borges, Phillip Roth or the best of journalism that marinates Europe or the Middle East?

The fictions of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas were known from their own saddles in England and the United States, respectively.  If their works are known today within Cuba, it is not due to editorial policy but to the animosity of its rulers.

The painstaking work of some good Cubans and their friends made issues of Havana for a Dead Infant and The Color of Summer pass among the complicit in order to travel what should have been a common path.  But those fictions of which I speak found, more than a thirsty reader, a tired citizen.

A battlefield, a devastated grassland

Making of Havana a fermenting center of the intellectual and combative left in past decades generated one of the most abominable literature that you might find, readers corrupted by the slogans of the barricades and the appellation of being perfect, idiots and Latin Americans, names which are going to take us a century to live down.

A simple practical exercise suffices in order to know how we are doing in terms of literary consumption.  I invite anyone to try to get a permit to access the archives of the Jose Marti National Library, without passing through the tribulations of a hellish bureaucracy or a string of negatives that lead him to desist.

And what, today, is the arsenal of the provincial libraries? When do they ever update their stacks with books that don’t come from the political publishers, Olive Green, the Social Sciences, or those already common bricks that praise comandante Chavez?

From a nearly monthly update as we had in the ’80s, we’ve gone to a laughable annual Havana book fair to see an interesting book from another country. At this rate, in addition to leaving us with no memory of the world, without messages, we are left without readers.

Translated by: Scott Miatech and mlk

27 May 2014

Detentions and Beatings for Dissidents in Guantanamo

2 Jan

Last December 24, as a reverse Christmas gift, officials of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) arrested human rights activists Yordis Garcia Fournier (Youth Movement for Democracy) and Yobel Sevila Martinez (Eastern Democratic Alliance – ADO) in the city of Guantanamo.

They told reporters from Palenque Vision that they there were brutally beaten and harassed in the presence of a high official of the so-called State Security.  I personally know Yordis as well as Yobel, I know of their humility and bravery, of the commitment they have to Cuban freedom.  In the case of Garcia Fournier, he finished a one-year and some months sentence for a supposed “insult” to authorities in 2008.  Sevila Martinez, like several members of the ADO, has an enormous string of arrests and beatings, ordered precisely by those who say “take care of the public order.”

Translated by mlk.

Note: this video is in Spanish:

27 December 2013

Three Cuban Women Under the Boots of Crime / Luis Felipe Rojas

22 Oct

Signs: Throw something at my house because I have more honor than you. Political officer throws excrement at my house under the dictatorship
This appeared on the house of Caridad Burunate after being pelted with eggs by a mob.

“On October 4, they had me in a choke hold, it was the Special Brigade.  There were men, I was talking to one of the big men, they took me to the door of the house, inside the house.  They came with their uniforms.  Some men dressed in overalls painted the house in asphalt, five times they have done it, without taking into account that there are minors here,” that is the testimony of Damaris Moya Portieles, President of the Central Opposition Coalition, resident of Santa Clara.

Violence against women, dressed in white or not; with or without gladioli in hand has become recurrent all over the island.  It has to do not only with the hate sessions like the Acts of Repudiation, the physical mistreatment and the torture are “a piece of cake” in the containment measures against the opposition.  Damaris herself relates:  “Some months ago I was admitted into the Arnaldo Milian Castro hospital, the result of a beating that the State Security officers dealt me,” she says, and offers the name of the oppressors:  “Yuniel Monteagudo Reina, Erik Francis Aquino Yera and Ayor vigil Alvares, plus Pablo Echemendia Pineda,” she concludes.

Fourteen Sundays Under Rocks and Words

She is a hardworking woman and always likes to prepare the best dishes for her family; one day she decided to do it for the poor.  Caridad Burunate hosts each week in her home some twenty elderly and destitute people to give them a little ration of food.  She does it under the project “Capitan Tondique,” and the name of the anti-Castro guerrilla fighter has cost Burunate, in Colon, Matanzas, the well-known acts of repudiation, beatings, arrests and the painting of her house black.

“The mobs prepare, they are criminals, and they cuff us, fight us.  Even prisoners have been brought from the Aguica prison, because they tell them that they are going to give them passes, they even kick us.  When we arrive at my house from the walks (every Sunday with the Women in White), they wait for us with bags of rocks, eggs, they even painted my house because they wrote, “Long live Fidel, Long live the Revolution” and I wrote to them on top of that:  “Down with the Revolution” and “Down with Fidel.”

The president of the People’s Power, Dignora Zenea Sotolongo, brought a jeep full of eggs, which are non-existent, people do not have them to eat, and they threw them at my house; and of course, she has almost all her family in Miami.  This house they bathed in eggs and asphalt.  They give eggs to children for them to throw.  I made myself an opponent because we have no rights, and because I have always enjoyed expressing what I feel, I did not do it just for myself, but also to help others,” she concludes.

A Violent Beginning

Tania Oliva Chacon resides in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba.  She received the first beating “in March of this year,” when she joined the Ladies in White.  “On October 10 I found myself at a friend’s house and we were about to watch the class they broadcast on TV every day, but the house was surrounded since early morning, and when we were about to sing the national anthem, they threw themselves on us like beasts, like animals.

They knocked me down with a kick to the leg, and injured me.  They immobilized me for 21 days, but I had no way to heal.  The one who kicked me is Captain Arsenio, the chief of the sector Police.  One of my companions was badly hurt, they got him in the ribs and he is still in a very bad way.  On many occasions they come dressed as special troops in order to impress us.  I was in my last year of studies for a Bachelor’s in History, but as I began to demonstrate and to tell about the thefts that were happening, then I “fell ill” and could not finish.  My son has graduated and has not been able to get a job,” she said.

Translated by mlk.

21 October 2013

A Cyber Cafe in Cuba? No chance.

20 Oct

Illustration: photomontage The Singularity of the Island.

Under the heading “Protect Internet Cafes in Cuba. Julian Assange Bungles It,” the website offers good advice for Cuban citizens and digital non-conformists wanting to get around censorship restrictions.

Every time that I receive questions from activists in Cuba about the internet browser rooms, I never tire of repeating the phrase “Begone, Satan”, “Good riddance”, “Take them winter wind”, or any other interjection I can think of at that moment to make it clear that they should run as though from the devil himself. Like moths to a flame, they are designed to attract the unwary, who are bedazzled by its radiance.

The Cuban regime took its time designing these “booby traps” and — in what it considers a masterful sleight-of-hand — is attempting to make itself look good in the eyes of the modern world, which increasingly considers internet access to be a basic human right.

In fact, it has already reaped some rewards this week by successfully recruiting a “figure” of no less international stature than Julian Assange to proselytize politically on behalf of the Cuban regime. This is a completely surreal and incomprehensible development since, supposedly, the hacker’s code of ethics mandates fighting for free access to information.

His support for one of the world’s most repressive communist dictatorships — one known for restricting access to the free flow of ideas on the internet — is a senseless action that will very probably cause Assange to lose face in the eyes of the hackers who support him. Will Assange turn out to be one of those typical useful, misinformed fools or an opportunist looking for free vacations in the Caribbean? Whatever the answer, the betrayal of the ideals of hackers like Anonymous will not go unnoticed.

Why is Nauta a trap?

1 – Price censorship.

The cost of one hour of access to the internet in these rooms is 4.50 CUC, some $5 US if we convert it. Considering that the average salary in CUCs is approximately $20 per month, we can calculate that one hour of internet use costs Cubans close to 25% of their monthly salary. In a country where the salary is barely enough for one or two weeks’ worth of food, very few can afford to visit these rooms. By way of comparison, if in the United States or Europe one hour of internet cost more than $1,300, social network sites like Facebook would be very bleak places…

2 – Total lack of security, privacy and basic functionality.

To be able to buy a Nauta card, users have to display their identity cards. Their names, addresses and surnames, together with the identification code of the cards sold, are registered in a database. In this same database all their activity is stored: the sites they visit, passwords they enter, screen captures and general captures of all that they type (keyloggers).

The computers available are in fact thin clients* running a modified and highly restricted version of Windows Xp, an operating system so antiquated that it will soon be discontinued by Microsoft, which will no longer issue updates for it.

Short Restrictions:

It is not permitted to right click with the mouse. This reduces functionality for those who are used to cutting and pasting text using menus and eliminates all the information that right clicking in Windows provides. Hint: You can use the keyboard shortcuts ctrl+C to copy, ctrl+X to cut and ctrl+V to paste.

It is not permitted to run any programme from USB memory sticks.

It is not permitted to run any programme from command lines (CMD.exe).

Task Manager is disabled, the Ctrl + Alt + Del and don’t even dream of administrator access in order to install some program that you may need.

Overcoming Nauta

The number one rule is : If you can avoid it, DO NOT USE IT. In Cuba, there are many other alternatives: Access from work centers, much less restrictive network dial-up access, illegal accounts shared by foreigners, friends who can send your emails as a favor, and of course access to offline internet content like the Web Packets Weekly Mulitmedia Packets that reign across the island.

If you have no other option you can protect yourself using these simple tips:

1.  Use disposable email accounts, ask your contacts to do the same if possible. The value of your messages lies not only in their contents but also in those to whom they are directed and from whom and from where you receive them (Metadata).  Never use your name or personal information to create an email account or to search websites on the Internet.  If you use false data and a fake name it will be much more difficult for government analysts or their spy programs to determine if your mail or user profile is worth the effort of analyzing.  These spy programs are used by almost all governments, including the United States and, of course, Cuba.

2.  Mask “complicated” words in your messages by using spaces, repeated letters and punctuation signs at random.  This will prevent automated software or analysts that search for key words from being able to flag your messages or profile as being of interest for analysis.  For example, instead of writing “the dissidents screamed liberty at the demonstration” write “the di. Si-dde :ntes shouted lib. ee.r t y in the demi. str *ati-on”  A text search for the words “dissident” and “demonstration” will not detect your messages.  Government agencies in other countries like the C-I. A and the N-S. A will not appreciate this advice, either.:)

3.  Mask your messages by excess information.  For example, began your email with several paragraphs of weighty poems and by prior agreement let your recipient know in which paragraph will be the true message.  The poor analyst that has to read your email will simply go to the next when he sees your long poem. The idea is to make his work difficult all the time.  Remember to mask words as explained above.

4.  Be aware that everything that you type and capture on-screen is being recorded on your user profile.  If you are forced to use a personal password, mask it with random fillers that you will then remove with the mouse and the Delete key. For example, if your password is “freecuba123,” write “iwantfreecub123456.”  Then select “iwant” and “456” with your mouse and hit delete.  This is not 100% safe with advanced keyloggers but it will make it hard for the analyst who is watching your information to discover which is the true password.  There exists no completely secure protection in the world of information nor in the real one.  It is like protecting your home:  the more difficult you make it for the thief, the less likely your house will be the one in the neighborhood that gets hit.

5.  Use PHP proxies for accessing web pages whose navigation is censored and that you do not want to be kept in your navigation history.  Write on Google:  “php proxy list” to access web pages that keep lists of proxies that constantly change in order to prevent them from being blocked.  These proxies will permit you to navigate as if your were in another country and will hide the website addresses that you visit.  Nevertheless, remember that your screen is being recorded and if you do something that calls attention they might check your user profile.

6.  Https is your friend.  Always prefer web pages in which the URL or address begins with https.  This means that all traffic between your navigator and the web page server is automatically encrypted in a secure way, hence the letter “s.” However, remember that what you type is being recorded so you cannot stop using the tricks listed above or better still, if you can avoid it, do not enter your search information on any page from Nauta.

If you have other ideas and suggestions for the protection of privacy and security of users in browser rooms in Cuba, write them in the comments below.

Archived in Cuba

*Translator’s note: Computers or computer programmes which depend heavily on other computers (their servers) to fulfill their computational roles.

Translated by Shane J. Cassidy, mlk

30 September 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