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15 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas



limits which my country invents

vain farewells

the gondola

the oar

the nostalgia…the postcards…

(From my unpublished book of poems)

The Grieving Country

31 Jan

I continue to be moved by the images of a Cuba that doesn’t appear in the newspapers.  A country which does not exist to the authorities.

This is a blog made up of different pieces, among them the collaborations of my compatriots-in-the-struggle and all that I can do with my camera and pencil.  The images you can see today are very similar to those which the propaganda scaffolding of the Cuban system reserves for special occasions, for example when they wish to make a statement such as, “Cuba will not return to the past.”  In such instances, they are referring to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and to the eras of other past presidents who came before him. The “Bohemia” magazine would do a great job of detailing life in Cuba during the ’50’s, reporting on places and people who had not been touched by the hand of civilization.

In the photos of this post, one can see people who have been born and grown old under the achievements Cuba’s 1959 Revolution. Olivio, Rafael, and Cilia were all rescued from “ferocious capitalism” so that they could live under the kindness of Cuban socialism.  Such a socialism was implemented based on the measures of a man who wishes to perpetuate himself in power.  The photos were given to me by my friend Marta Diaz Rondon, who every once in a while helps these unfortunate people. They have lost their pensions for the simple reason that they have a relative living with them at home who receives (or “earns”) more than 7 dollars a month in their job. This is a measure imposed by the Ministry of Social Work and Security.

During this past week, my mother informed me that her 127 peso check (as the subsidy could be called in another country) was canceled because she has a son (me) who is of working age (although I do not live with her) and who does not have a job (although I was fired four years ago from the Cultural sector).

We have entered the XXI century with a rhythm of disaster and desperation.  It is the result of a group of men who advance the country in the newspapers but push it far back in real life.

January 30 2011

Culture: A Shield or the Nation’s Rag?

31 Jan

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

A decade after fussing about how we would be the “most abundant and successful country in the world”, the first threats to overthrow the old cultural apparatus in Cuba have gotten underway.  The monstrosity which led thousands to dream about the aims of a socialist art has grown, so much so that cultural modules were created.  These groups do not contribute a thing to society since they have been built on subservience, propaganda, and the most rancid of ideologies, which only intends to achieve reverence from the subject before the monarch.  And now they are starting to fade.

The proposed budget cuts have reached the door-steps of local Cuban culture, and the interior provinces are the ones most threatened.  In Holguin, the popular “City Awards” (an event which takes place on Culture Day each year) have ceased financing the competitions in the areas of: Fine Art, Scenic Art, and Literature (in all its genres).  The recipient of the Poetry Award will now only receive a small wooden statue, along with a cardboard diploma.  In addition, the winner must wait for the local editor to publish his/her book in order to make any sort of earning or copyright. The national “House of Culture” system has also launched its own plan of dismissals under the name of “available personnel”.

The ideological apparatus has prohibited the use of the word “unemployed” when referring to those who will be left without jobs, it’s that simple.  In Cuba we have Cultural Units made up of local institutions such as the House of Culture (for any acts of Theatre, Music, Dance, Fine Arts, and Literature), a museum, a library, a film theatre, and a Municipal Management Office.  With such bureaucratic machinery, small towns like San German, Songo-La Maya, and Vertientes have created more than 100 titles for “specialists”, analysts, programmers, art instructors, economists, accountants, janitors, directors, sub-directors, artistic directors, cultural promoters, librarians, computer specialists, and a plethora of other positions which occur to them, as the government is bent on being the “most productive country in the world,” all the while ignoring any local talent.

In fact, there may be hundreds of cultural employees while there are not even 20 local musicians, actors, or craftsmen from a small municipality.  Now, the budget-cuts have arrived and nearly 30 of these talented artists will be missing in the municipal sectors of Holguin. While I jot down these notes from beyond the barbed wires, I have received some worrisome news.  Around twenty or so young writers from Holguin will be traveling to Venezuelan slums.  There, they will hand out their verses and share their work instruments with the sons of Bolivar.  We continue “Lighting the streets while it’s dark inside our own house.”

Now, the miserable thousand Cuban pesos ($40 U.S.) will no longer be offered to the author or poet recipient of the City Award. The Ministry of Culture will get ready to culturally invade the slums of Caracas.  They simply continue to play with the dreams of some youths who embark on adventures simply to be able to bring back a cell phone, to make a good friend who will help them buy some necessary things, or to earn a thousand dollars to buy a laptop on their way back. “Why go if you do not want to?” I asked one of the young men who is now taking a Popular Culture seminar.  His answer was really the tip of the iceberg, “To escape this time bomb for a while.”

We are still a country where good books are scarce, still missing out on the best cultural supplements (found in papers like El Pais or El Mundo), where theatres are dilapidated, and where going to watch a good dance or ballet show could cost you an entire month’s salary. Hundreds of so-called “cultural promoters” will depart to Venezuela soon.  Upon returning after three months they will join the ranks of the unemployed.

Dozens of musical groups have just been dismantled as a product of such a fierce staff reduction.  Only on certain occasions may we watch films on 35mm, and in medium quality.  Cultural events, such as the Party of Fire in Santiago de Cuba, and the Romerias de Mayo in Holguin, have reduced their interest to scarce foreign participation, and very little national talent.  These are the wagers of those who preferred to make culture the nation’s sword, not its shield. January 27 2011

Democracy and Subversion on the Bus

20 Dec

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Once more I made the journey from Havana to Santiago de Cuba in a glistening Yutong made-in-China bus, which doesn’t belong to us Cubans, but rather to those “embattled workers” of the capitalist world who come to spend the summer in Cuba. It was the Transgaviota busline, a tourist emporium that belongs to the Revolutionary Armed Forces in my country.

Since these buses should not return empty to the east of the island, they are made to pass through the bus stations to pick up those passengers who have spent several days in line to move between provinces. This time I must shamefully admit that Raul Castro’s government has made some changes, superficial (as the politicians say), skin deep (as ancient Cubanology states), but there have been changes. Now, instead of poisoning us with the latest reggaeton or the last concert tour of Alvaro Torres through Europe (forgive me, fans of the Salvadoran), they showed us a Celia Cruz concert where she never ceases missing her homeland.  Some young people behind me were surprised and they were asking why not show it.  When we left the first conejito on the National Highway, the driver surprised us with a selection of the hundred best plays in the Major Leagues, and we saw Ordóñez, José Ariel Contreras, Canseco and Alex Rodríguez.

I don’t like the lovey-dovey music of Marco Antonio Solis, but when those Hispanic crowds cheer him on, I take  my hat off and step aside. In a tribute that makes up the stock of any respected bus driver, Marco Antonio is greeted by former President Bush and when they shook hands, I saw the face of a Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Revolutionary Army who was in the row next to me — he looked like he was recovering from a heart attack.

Afterward, the trip became boring.  They started playing a few programs which were made in the USA, called “Decisions” and “Case Closed”.  Everyone on the bus would just stare at each other in awe as those Hispanics butchered the Spanish language — and yet, they had jobs and they were apparently happy.  The trip ended with a “Case Closed” episode, a sort of personal life program.  In this specific episode, a Dominican man was being accused of exploiting a semi-mentally challenged girl.  Astonished, he was alleging that he had not done anything out of the ordinary, stating that, “in Cuba they give you a girl for 20 bucks!”  The bus driver started lowering the volume, while some on board were staring at the Eastern landscapes.  The afternoon was arriving and we barely even noticed when the guy behind the wheel put on a bank-robber movie.  We were hungry and sleepy, worn out by 700 kilometers of bad roads and horrible food service.  But for 12 hours, we lived outside the heat of the nation and of its television, something which the housewives and workers who will now become unemployed cry out for.

This is also my country.

Translated by Raul G.

December 20, 2010

Celebration and Condemnation

16 Dec

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

While throughout many parts of the world many tributes were being held for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cuba once again opted to go against it.  They began on Thursday the 9th with beatings, mob acts, and harassment towards the Ladies in White, who were carrying out their usual march throughout the capital.

All throughout the country there were arrests, blocking of telephone service, and police harassment towards activists.  The first piece of bad news came to me in text message from Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina at 7 am on Friday.  He and his brother, Nestor, were detained at that time.  They left Rolando in the Parque 24 barracks in Guantanamo, and Nestor was taken to the center of police operations.  Later, the government cracked down on Enyor Diaz Allen, Isael Poveda Silva, Jorge Corrales Ceballos, Jose Cano Fuentes, and other activists.

From Santiago de Cuba I received word that Idalmis Nunez and Tania Montoya had not been detained in the capital city, which they traveled to in order to support the Ladies in White.  However, they did suffer from much harassment, collective repression, and overall harsh treatment carried out by trained mobs.

Later on I received a message from Moa: Omar Wilson Estevez, Angis Sarrion Romero, and three other activists (whose names I could not decipher due to the strange sounds emanating from the phone line) had all been detained.  In Velazco, a small town near Gibara, there was also a repressive wave.  They detained Jonas Avila and Rafael Leiva.

Bayamo reported the detention of Yoandris Montoya Aviles and another young man by the name of Ariel.  I still do not have the names of the detainees in Banes and Antilla, and they also have not been able to explain to me why Nestor was kept in the G2 offices until Sunday, the 12th, when he was taken to the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo without a single trial or formal accusation.

I did not even try to travel out of San German.  I am well aware of the vigilance and control methods exercised over my family and me.  I also know which individuals are responsible for this.  But once Jorge and Rolando were released they were able to inform me that in Villalon Park there were students and social workers placed there by the government.  These groups attempted to halt the activities of the Eastern Democratic Alliance which were to take to the streets to hand out flyers with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on them, while also explaining how the Cuban police and government violates this document which was signed 62 years ago.

I don’t know why they are so fearful of a celebration where the present members were holding pieces of paper that, among other things, stated:

Article 19. Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes not being harassed because of your opinions, having the freedom to investigate and receive information and opinions, and to spread them without the limitation of borders, through any means of media expression.

Article 20: Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful reunion and association.  No one shall be forced to belong to a specific association.

Translated by Raul G.

We Have Received These Messages From Rolando Lobaina’s Twitter

28 Nov

Early this sunday morning, we were expecting to receive an e-mail with an entry for the readers of “Crossing the Barbed Wire”, but instead what we received was this message from Rolando Lobaina’s Twitter (@LobainaCuba) coming from Guantanamo:  “The writer, Luis Felipe Rojas, his wife, and 2 children have been detained by the political police at the entrance of Guantanamo.  His current whereabouts are still unknown.”

Up to this moment, Luis Felipe Rojas’ cell phone continues to be “turned off”.  It cannot receive any messages, and he has therefore not been able to send out any messages either to his friends.  Much less a tweet.

Translated by Raul G.


Abel Remembers the Last Days of Zapata in a Prison of Camaguey

24 Nov

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

The following is a testimony from Abel Lopez Perez who, a few days before the 3rd of December, was transferred from the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo (in his native city and where he served a political prison sentence) to the horrid dungeons of a prison in Camaguey, where Orlando Zapata was also taken.

In that prison, there was a group of more than twenty political prisoners and common prisoners who supported Orlando Zapata in his civic protest — the hunger strike. The situation in the prison became complicated for the jailers, and they resorted to countless vile deeds in order to try to make the prisoners, and Zapata, give up.

Abel Lopez was released months later with an extra-penal license due to his delicate state of health. He returned to his home in Guantanamo, but the police authorities informed him that he now must comply with certain restrictions. Among them, the principal one is that he cannot travel out of his home municipality — and if he does, he will once again be arrested and sent back to prison.

He has still not been able to visit the cemetery where the remains of the Cuban martyr, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, lie.

I leave you all with his experiences, the same exact way in which he told them to me a month after his release from prison.

“I got to see him within the first days.  When we saw each other, I was also carrying out a hunger strike.  The guards casually made a mistake and walked him down the same corridor I was in.  He recognized me by the tattoo of Marti that I have on my arm, and he said, “Abel”.  I responded, “Yes, Zapata.  We must continue”.  Even though prisoners tend to keep silent and harbor lots of fears, deep inside they have a free person longing to see their country in freedom.  And they also keep each other informed, and they did the same with me, informing me of everything that would happen with Zapata.

Before Zapata was checked into the hospital, he was regularly taking some vitamins.  He was in a weak state of health.  A military chief known as ‘Gordo’, who was the one responsible for ordering all of Zapata’s things to be taken out of the cell and to stop giving him water, also took his bottle of vitamins and poured all the pills down a drain.  He told him, ‘Those who are in protest here don’t drink vitamins.  I think those are pills sent to you by the Yankees so you can continue your hunger strike.’  Those were the exact words said to him, I verified them.  His vitamins were taken away, as were any other medications.  And they stopped giving him water for a while.

When they saw that Zapata was determined to reach the last consequences, they changed their strategy.  They rushed him to the hospital.  During Zapata’s stay in the hospital, a security guard visited me and told me, ‘Abel, someone has to talk to Zapata.  Would you be willing to go talk to him?’  I flat out told him that I wasn’t.  I would not talk to Zapata.  Zapata knew what he was doing, and I was not one to try to influence his decisions.

That was a method of operation used by them to try to discredit him, to try to get people, one by one, to talk to him and convince him to leave the hunger strike.  Once in the hospital, he and I were finally able to talk.

Many prisoners who surrounded him, like Otero, and Frank Alvarez (a young man with a life sentence who resided in the cell next to where Zapata was being held), told me that a few days before being taken away, Zapata stood up and shouted, ‘People, don’t let yourselves be lied to.  Don’t believe anything that they tell you.  I’m not demanding a kitchen or any of the things they took away from me.  I’m demanding an improvement of treatment for all prisoners, and so you all know, I am going to die for it.’  I remember the day when we received the tragic news of his death.  A few prisoners came running to me and told me, ‘Come here, hurry’.  We walked into the small room where there was a television*.  There, the young man who was telling me this started to cry and told me, ‘My friend, I was there.  Abel, I’m a witness of it all, of his death.  Zapata was not demanding any of this’.

I must say that the Granma newspaper committed a crime by saying that Zapata was demanding absurd things like a telephone, a kitchen, a personal room, and a television.

But within that prison itself, I am a witness that in the hospital* section there is a “revolutionary prisoner” who stole large amounts from the state.  He is treated differently, and exclusively.  While they said that Zapata demanded absurd things, which were just pure lies, this other prisoner enjoyed a “suite”.  That prisoner was the one who was at the forefront of managing the hospital of Prison 26.  For more than 20 years he has been taking money and resources from there.  One day, they casually told me to go visit the hospital, and I actually accepted.  That same prisoner resided right in front of Hospital 26.  He has a room, a telephone, a radio, an electric kitchen, and even a heater.  When I saw the State Security Major, Bombino*, I told him, ‘How is it that Granma tauntingly says that Zapata demanded these things.  How is it possible that right there in number 26 resides the engineer, the prisoner in charge of the construction of the hospital and he has all of these things?’  He responded, ‘Well, that is the engineer who is in charge of the hospital.’  And I looked at him and said, ‘But he is a prisoner.  Isn’t he supposed to be confined to a high security prison, just like the rest of us?’  He simply told me, ‘No, no, he can have all that stuff.’

And while the newspaper mocked Zapata, this was occurring.  Goes to show you the differences between a “revolutionary” prisoner and the rest of us, the defenders of human rights.

And I must repeat: those were very grim days, filled with sorrow because of Zapata’s death.

*they told me:  Abel is referring to those who would report from prison that they had taken Zapata’s water and vitamins.

*the hospital: Referring to the Camaguey Amalia Simoni Civil Hospital which has a waiting room for those who are sentenced.  They check in prisoners from various jails in the province in this hospital.

*the television: Referring to the images played by the Cuban Television in which they discredited the hunger strike of Zapata where Raul Castro, together with the Brazilian president, referred to “some prisoner who died”.

*Bombino: Refers to the political police guard by the name of Julio Cesar Bombino, one of the figures deeply involved with the fate of Orlando Zapata in Camaguey.  He is one of the highest ranking State Security officials in that province.


Translated by Raul G.

November 24 2010

Just for Expressing Disagreements

21 Nov

Brauilio Cuenca Cruz was the one who told me about it. He said he was fined in the amount of 30 pesos just for publicly expressing his nonconformity with regards to the Cuban health system. This occurred during the meeting of Popular Power, which took place in the small town of Antilla, where he claimed his right to criticize the skyrocketing cost of the neonatal services in the municipal hospital of that town.

Braulio added that there were leaders of the party and of the government present in the meeting. At the conclusion of the assembly, he was approached by a police officer who imposed a fine on him for “supposedly” wanting to sabotage the government meeting.  A native of Antilla, Cuenca Cruz, assured me that he will not pay the fine and he knows that because of this he will run the risk of having the fine increased. He says he is doing it to be persistent, and that for believing in justice he will have to go to trial to demand his rights. He feels that he has the right to freely express himself, even if it is in front of those who run the country and the municipality.

I did not tell him my opinion about his intention to speak out against the fine, because I don’t find it appropriate that I induce people to make certain decisions. I remember that, not too long ago, my wife took some “legal” (if you can refer to something in my country in that way) steps. We turned in some formal demands to the Provincial Fiscal Office, and in a matter of little time they cited me to appear at their hermetical offices of Holguin. The results of that citation are known to my readers, for I described it here on my blog.

But since I do not want to feel guilty for not warning the rest, I read the report which the Guantanamo native Anderlay Guerra Blanco posted just a few weeks prior in the blog El Palenque.

Dolin Dachao Alexander expressed his sentiments against the Cuban dictatorship from the roof of his house itself during an Assembly of Popular Power which took place in his hometown. He began to shout, “Down with the dictatorship! Down with Fidel Castro! Down with Raul Castro!” in front of all those who were present.

He was immediately detained and shoved into a police car, which would take him to the provincial unit of State Security operations.  In the popular tribunal of that city, they carried out a trail for him because of supposed lack of respect in the cause of 20/2010.  When they sentenced him with 10 months of forced labor, Dolin responded with the same exact words which got him jailed in the first place.

On the 13th of April of this year, a new trial was carried out for Dolin at the theater of the Combinado Prisons of Guantanamo. This time, he was being tried for disrespecting those at the tribunal due to the words he spoke against the regime during the last trial.  His relatives were not present. Only soldiers presided over the Roman Circus. They added 10 months more to his punishment, this time to be served under imprisonment. Dolin was not frightened, and he once again shouted, “Down with the dictatorship! Down with Fidel Castro! Down with Raul Castro! Justice for the Cuban people!”

I remember all the times my wife has shouted those same phrases to the police when they have come to detain me. She knows the risks she runs, and yet she does not hesitate to express what she thinks of them. I recall the stories of Caridad Caballero, Marta Diaz Rondon, Idalmis Nunez, and all my compatriots from the Alliance, Rolando and Cristian Toranzo, when they all detailed to me what they lived through within the “instruction centers” of Pedernales, where they also screamed for freedom at the top of their lungs. The women showed me their bruised lips, products of beatings against them intending to shut their mouths.

I remember Reina when she told me, “With a piece of cloth soaked in gasoline they covered my mouth, for they were trying to asphyxiate me so I would not scream ‘Zapata lives, and the Castros murdered my son.'”

Translated by Raul G.

Murmurs Only from the Nonconformists

17 Nov

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

Alberto Vega Mackensi, who just a few months ago was a bread distributor in Holguin, told me that the sector chief of the National Revolutionary Police, Alfredo Ortiz, has summoned him on various occasions, demanding him to look for work in the construction or agricultural field.  If he fails to do so, the officer has notified him that he could then be accused of social dangerousness.*

Vega commented to me that this time they simply warned him, but that he now only had a few weeks to start searching for employment.  If he fails, then he will have to go before a court.  They have already spoken to him about accusations, and in my country that translates into imprisonment for more than a — and that’s if he is lucky.  Vega then told me that he knows a few young men who have been threatened during the last couple of days by these same police whose sector belongs to the third unit of the city.

Meanwhile, other people, who have asked to remain anonymous, assured me that he Chiefs of the Police Sectors and “Chiefs from the Commission of Social Prevention” have called a meeting with the unemployed people of the labor sector to force them to work, a contradiction which affects many, especially when the government authorities have announced massive lay-offs in sectors like public health, interior trade, the sugar industry, and some administrative dependencies.  They confess that they do not understand such contradictions.

A few days ago, I traveled out of San German.  I left behind the murmurs of the nonconformists, complaining about the news of so many lay-offs, about the monitored meetings to be held in each neighborhood, and the very limited options for future employment.  But in the places I traveled to, I heard no other subject.  Artists from the different theatre, music, and painting groups, along with workers from the House of Culture will all have to go through the difficult process as well, according to what a friend of mine told me.  People who work in offices, cafeterias, education, and a number of health workers also complained.

What I did notice, however, was that no police officer mentioned that they had been laid off, nor a single member of the Communist Party, or the government, which is called here the “Popular Power”.  None of these people mentioned that the situation was “not right”, and that they would have to go work in agriculture, unless they wanted to be considered socially dangerous.

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

*Translator’s Note: “Social dangerousness” is a crime defined as the potential to commit a crime, and carries a 1 to 4 year prison term.

Translated by Raul G.

Mechanisms of Ongoing Control

18 Oct

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

How often should a restless dissident be called to the account, how often should the dumbbell of repression fall heavily upon them?  It’s possible that the answers to such questions could be established in the withered manuals of the operations of confrontation with the enemy which the Cuban political police keeps guarded behind various locks.  It could be that they simply are just improvisations of the agents of each neighborhood or municipality.  Whatever the reason is for the harsh banging on the door, the vigilant motorcycles driving through the streets where dissidents live all night long, and the half-open windows of the neighbors, they do not change from one day to another.

When they took me to the police station this past October 9th, I soon found out that the dissident Jose Antonio Triguero Mulet was also there with me, just as has occurred on other occasions.  This is a man who is 67-years-old and has participated in protest marches, has been beaten, and has told the “authorities” more than four phrases that they wish they would have never heard.

Triguero, at an age which is nearly twice that of most of the people who surround him, has slept in parks and terminals in order to evade vigilance, but also to accompany his brothers-in-disgrace.  He gets up on those high trucks to travel from one extreme to another on this Eastern land, and he is always willing to spit out the truth, to tell it like it is to whomever wishes to listen to his reality.  On one occasion he was detained by the henchman known as Rodolfo Cepena at the exit terminal of San German, heading towards Holguin.  He was being accompanied by his three-year-old grandson, and although he asked his repressors to halt such actions in front of the child, they paid no attention to this and sent him back  home.  The discussion changed in tone, and both suffered the shame of it, because they had no other options left.  Many people witnessed this event, and they will not be able to forget about it easily.  Another incident which has marked him is the pain he has felt when the repressors go searching for him at his house, in front of all his daughters and grandkids.  They come looking for him, a man who only does good deeds and simply thinks differently than those who govern Cuba.

One day, he told me that he was raised amid a family who only knew how to work to try to do the right thing.  During each detention, he has told me that they talk to him about the tomb of his parents, but they know that he is not a delinquent.

How often do they have to call a dissident to account? How many weeks or months apart do they have to remind him of the grim faces of the interrogation specialists, with their slaps and their pistols on their belts?

How often do they have to ring the door, hand out their papers crossed in red ink, the deafening whistles, the family shaken awake and let to know that “Security” is still after them?

Translated by Raul G.