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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.

“Akiro”

12 Oct


Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Known by the name “Akiro,” thanks to his martial arts talent and his involvement with combat sports, Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin has been confined to the provincial jail of Holguin.  There, he has been condemned to suffer two years due to a supposed act of “disrespect,” which in Cuba can be anything from informally addressing a cop, lifting a fist to a G2 official, or mentioning the name of the mother of the “Reflector-in-Chief”* in an unimaginable fashion.

On this past 21st of September, Rodriguez Desdin sewed his lips shut with a wire to protest how the authorities had cut telephone communications with his family members.  He stayed like that, with the wires, until the 23rd when they decided to allow him the mandatory phone minutes.

Some of the denunciations of the violations that were being committed there have to do with the fact that a common prisoner, Eliecer Sanchez Gonzalez, who is 21 years of age and is confined to the same prison, is kept under high security along with him along with various other prisoners classified as maximally dangerous.  Desdin explained that the prison authorities of Holguin have said that the prisoner Sanchez Gonzalez cannot be sent to the center for minors in “La Cuaba” because of his crime, which has been labeled as Theft and Sacrifice of Major Livestock, in other words — he ate a cow.  And this a priority level case.  Sanchez Gonzalez also stated that in the center for minors they have also put prisoners who have been sentenced for 30 years, while they don’t allow them to be among those who make up his age group.

Desdin also adds that the military officers place the prisoners in the areas that correspond, as a benefit or as a regulation, according to convenience, while refusing other cases, which has led to quarrels, abuses, and theft, an act that constitutes a violation of the rights of people who are imprisoned in the penitentiary.

He also told me in a letter that officials from the Interior Order do not want to offer medical attention to the common prisoner called Maikel Sanchez Martinez, who suffers from nervous system issues, and is suffering greatly under prison life.  According to Desdin, Doctor Elvis, who is the director of the prison hospital, is the one who is supposed to order the isolation or hospitalization of the sick Maikel Sanchez.  He then goes on to tell me that Sanchez only receives promises from officials and paramedics that are never kept.  Other young prisoners who live with this 23-year-old have constantly asked authorities to tend to him but they only receive evasive responses.  He also pointed out that the common prisoner, Luis Miguel Arias Cala, a minor of 21 years of age, finds himself confined to a detachment of maximum severity, together with prisoners sentenced under homicides and murders, despite his delicate health.

Arias Cala suffers from a heart condition, with grade 3 arterial hypertension and heart murmurs.  He was moved from the “Yayal” prison (commonly known as “CUBA SI”), and the officials lost his clinical history.  Because of this, the medical professionals in the provincial hospitals refuse to treat him.  Desdin argues in his letter that such a responsibility falls directly to Dr. Elvis, who refuses to proceed as the norms require.

In the same letter, he continues detailing the serious health situation of the prisoner Ramon Herrera Delgado, who suffers from a progressive withering left arm, loss of vision on his right eye, and constant headaches, without any effective medical treatments on behalf of the doctors.

The political prisoner Rodriguez Desdin adds that Herrera was sentenced to 6 years under the pretext of armed robbery, yet he had already been taken to the Axial Computerized Tomography (Somaton), in Santiago de Cub,a when he was sentenced for buying a copper wire to sell in a re-collection store where he used to work.

The officials of the Order of the Interior from the provincial prison of Holguin informed Herrera Delgado that his clinical history had disappeared.  Such lost documents have led the doctors of the V.I. Lenin Hospital of Holguin to refuse to give him any treatments or to carry out any medical exams.  Amid such a situation, Ramo Herrera and his family have spoken out, but Dr. Elvis, the director of the prison’s hospital, has not decided to carry out a medical exam to solve the issue, said Rodriguez Desdin.

Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin is a delegate of the Political Prisoner Association “Pedro Luis Boitel” in Holguin, and is also an activist of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.

When I finished composing this post, I was informed of the good news that Rodriguez Desdin had been nominated for the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Dignity Award this year.  It is something he deserves; he has more than demonstrated his worthiness.  That prize had been previously given to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, and other brave prisoners from the Eastern region of Cuba, due to their honorable behavior under prison conditions.

Great news for “Akiro.”

*Translator’s note: A play on words referring to Fidel Castro’s regular newspaper column titled “Reflections.”

Translated by Raul G.

Crossing the Barbed Wire with the Blue Bird

6 Oct


I spent the night of September 30th traveling, and part of October 1st on the expressway of Farola in order to get to Baracoa.  The 7th session of the committee of the Eastern Democratic Alliance was to be held in Maisi, but the detentions began on Friday and did not cease until Sunday. The grand total of detentions was 19, with 6 deportations to Camaguey, Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and las Tunas.  There weren’t any beatings and there was less confrontation than other times, but it was still a mass operation which included the extensive search of the beaches which they thought we would try to escape by in order to get to Maisi.

In my case, I was detained along with 5 other human rights activists.  Amid all of this, I noted something interesting: we spent various hours stationed on the outskirts of the road waiting for a military transport to take us to the police unit in Baracoa.  When we got there, a political police officer ordered for us to be removed from the barracks immediately, a much different scenario than the usual, where we are nearly always put in cells instead.  While we traveled aboard the olive-green jeep I thought that I was the king of the internet, for I was using Twitter to report the names of those who were detained, in order of the news I was receiving.  I could already picture myself turning into a blue bird and flying to the homes of friends outside of Cuba and telling them the news.

But what a fiasco, none of my 140-character messages arrived at their destination, yet each and every one of them was charged to my account.  The list of the detainees was the same as always: Rolando and Nestor Lobaina, Idalmis Nunez, Omar Wilson, Jorge Corrales, Belkis Barbara Portal, Virgilio Mantilla — in sum, 19 peaceful dissidents who were impeded from freely walking towards the lighthouse of Maisi, the eastern-most point of the island. There, we were planning to read the calling for the Unity in Diversity document which the Democratic Alliance had launched, but since such acts were impeded two days later, while we had been released we re-grouped in a central area of the city.

Early that day, we silently walked more than ten blocks, all the way to the bust of Marti where we placed a floral gift and sang the anthem before the eyes of hundreds of Baracoa natives.  The Cuban G-2 (secret police) watched us during the entire process but did not impede the march.  I’m starting to think that they did not want to repeat the macabre spectacle which they carried out last August when they took part in the condemnation mob against the Rodriguez Lobaina family.  During those days, I could easily notice the air of disgust towards the political police which permeated among many locals after the beatings and barbaric acts which were carried out in the home of the brothers, where they used rocks to shatter the windows of the apartment where their father lives, and when they beat up some inhabitants.

To top it off, my old Sony digital camera ceased working, and seemingly forever.  This is why I haven’t been able to take a single photo as I am used to doing on any of these trips.  This time, you will all have to just settle with these bunch of words, believing or disbelieving what I say.

Today, many of us who report from this eastern cave have our cell phones blocked from making calls to places outside of Cuba.  Meanwhile, Cubacel still continues charging us their draconian rates. The police continues to restrict our movements, shoving gags in our mouths so we won’t speak up, and strictly spying on us wherever we go. And as if that wasn’t enough, Twitter has just shut off the only ray of light we had left upon their shutting down messaging through the phone.  In which direction are we headed?  Reporting what really happens in Cuba, which is ignored by the popular media outlets, will become a rare privilege if the Great Blue Bird does not come back.

* Friends who have showed solidarity and who have found out about the difficulty of sending messages through twitter with our cell phones have opened a provisional account, which we dictate through the phone, to cross the barbed wires from Holguin to Guantanamo.

@alambradasCuba @RRLobaina @jccpalenque

 

Translated by Raul G.

At the Doors of a New School Year

4 Sep

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

The multi-grade classrooms receive about ten or so students of different ages and from different remote regions where the low population rate does not make the area eligible for the establishment of regular schools.  But, at the doors of the new school year, parents of these students from multi-grade classrooms from different regions of San German, in the province of Holguin, are worried because education and governmental officials have announced that they will not be opening these educational centers this year.

Their children are supposed to attend schools which are several kilometers from where they live, in the midst of a terrible transport crisis and with the presence of teachers who lack the appropriate preparation to teach the tens of kids.

For this school year there is talk about other changes in other levels of education.  They have mentioned once again opening Schools that Shape Teachers, which had previously disappeared and were later replaced by the schools with “emerging teachers” (that is teenagers with very brief training in education).  In addition, they have also already announced the reduction of staff in the municipal offices of education, and many of those professionals must return to the classroom after various years of inactivity in the field.

Just over 20 years ago Fidel Castro predicted that Cuba would become a medical power and also eventually reach an outstanding ranking in educational standards; now a friend of mine who works in the education sector is hesitant about the fact that she must return to the classroom, which she left it behind 20 years ago.  She thinks that she has a few days yet to come up with a way to take part in the initiative which the government has proposed to “tackle” the social crisis which plagues us, to which the only response in San German up until now, has been to allow self-employment for barbers and hairdressers.

Translated by Raul G.

The Digital Playpen

1 Sep

ETECSA telepoint with Internet access only for foreigners

As I look at a map of Cuba, I can’t help but wonder about how, in the 21st century, an island that is so close to the country which exhibits the greatest digital advancement, can be traveling in the opposite direction. From Villa Clara to the tip of Maisi there are only two hotels which offer internet service for Cubans who do not have foreign passports, in other words for Cubans with ID cards.  These locations are found in Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, and their rates are 6 CUC per hour.  They have very low connectivity and some sites, which the government considers harmful, are blocked.

The attentive receptionists in the famous tourist spot of Guardalavaca in Holguin explain to me that in all the dozens of hotels and Bungalow Villas of my province I do not have the opportunity to connect to the internet if I’m not staying in these lodges.  But, if I were to be checked in to one of these resorts, with the magical passport and foreign residence card, I’d have to pay no less than 50 CUC for just one day.

There is also no luck in the hotel chains known as Club Amigos, Las Brisas, or Costa Verde, which are symbols of international hostels which particularly exclude Cuban citizens from any rights to enjoy warm sands, computer rooms, or basic cafeteria services.

Every city on the island has Points of Tele-Selection with the ETECSA companies.  They are commercial offices which also reserve the right to only admit people who possess some documents that prove foreign citizenship or residence.  However, about a little over a year ago they opened a locale which has proven to be surprisingly busy.  In them, you can see a long line of guys and girls who await their turn to exchange e-mails with foreign friends whom they have met in the hotels previously mentioned.

Let me explain:  For 1 CUC they are allowed to open an e-mail account from a national server that will not have well known extensions like g-mail or yahoo, but which will have the .cu extension, from which they will only be able to read and respond to their almost always flirtatious remarks.  There, they cannot use any sorts of devices like flash drives or CDs.  For 0.50 cents CUC they can spend an hour trying to exchange messages with the outside world under very strict vigilance on the part of the information functionaries which ETECSA and the G2 position there to watch over the users.  Those girls could pass with their foreign boyfriends and friends to hotels, make them spend a fortune on internal services, but when they leave, they have to return to the tourist apartheid.

The game is tight, as the saying goes.  Now, Cubacel holds the right to allow, or not to allow, people to use Twitter through cell phones in Cuba.  Those of us who are nonconformists and chose to protest, are also bound to lose this time around.

Translated by Raul G.