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One Year for “Crossing the Barbed Wire”

26 Dec

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I would have liked to have a public celebration in an internet cafe because in every respect this blog is not mine alone, but it also belongs to my readers and friends. But reality imposes itself and I know I am far from such merrymaking.

The generosity of a group of people has allowed me to post from a physical and technological distance, living in this little town in the center of eastern Cuba.

The kindness of some kids (I am nearly double their ages) have made it possible to have my work read in English, French, and, God willing, in a few days in Polish, and this, for a writer whose books haven’t sold 500 copies, is an unbelievable celebration.

It’s been a year and writing this diary, this road map of the Cuban reality has given me a passport to some police cells, a gang of outlaws who watch my house every day (they make a living out of that), and has placed my name on the lists of various highway checkpoints.  That is not a record, or even a good average, just the response of a wounded animal: the absolute power that does not permit fingers to point out its stains.

A balance sheet of the road taken reassures me that the whippings for not bowing down have been greater than the awards and nominations, but this will serve as a reminder of what happens in my country, not a wailing wall or a tourist postcard.  Those who seek to discredit me: thank you for the time that you dedicate to me, the actions of the regime you defend give me reasons and strength to continue. To those who encourage me: “Rosi de Cuba,” “Armienne,” Lory,” “Gabriel” and everyone else, thank you, I humbly say, thank you, I will try to be more objective every day, you’ll see.

The interest of Yoani Sanchez so that I could open this weapon against the human rights violators and those who think they own this country has made this part of the blog possible.  To her, I express my gratitude.

Finally, my faithful administrator, that person who from the North Pole will continue being a guajira, and a good soul beyond compare, thank you.

What I can say with all the pleasure of the world is that this is a blog that is made in fragments, between the horror that I see, and that my countrymen tell me about, the little I know about writing to put these stories together, and the commentary of the readers, for all that, applaud yourselves.  Greater efforts will come. Congratulations.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 26 2010

Stranded in No Man’s Land

6 Apr

There is no ideological gibberish that can convince a people who are fed up with lies. The provincial concocters of discourse and the daily grind achieve nothing against the litany of citizen complaints

Since late January the city of Holguin has been without rail service to Havana.  But since 2006 people have been transported not by train, but by Chinese (Yutong) buses which charged the modest price of 26 pesos.

Then the Ministry of Transport decided to cancel these trips for meeting their earnings estimates.  In their place they have scheduled two trips a day to the old bus station at a price of 144 pesos in national currency, but since then a long line on the waiting list frightens those who arrive.  Black market tickets have risen from 10 to 15  convertible pesos (CUC), as the crowd of travelers has risen to the levels of peak travel (New Year, start of the school year, beginning of a holiday or Mother’s Day, when a significant number of Cubans decide to travel to or from their hometowns).

The same sort of thing occurs with the policing of the Holguin Terminal, where around-the-clock patrols harass the horse cart drivers, cart pullers, bicycle taxis, drivers of rental cars (clandestine or licensed) and other kinds of private carriers.

Holguin is crossed by the main road, but the bypass built in the 1980s detours away from the city most of the transportation going to and from other parts of eastern Cuba, which makes it a dead end on the rail network or by road in Cuba.

The latest evasions of the provincial government and their transport managers were published in the local press last February, but nothing resolves the obstruction or the interference with daily life.

Inventing an alternative title to a song attacking racism by the troubadour Frank Delgado serves me as a palliative against such an absurd measure: “How to get to Havana and not die in the attempt.”

Translator’s note: Frank Delgado (born October 19, 1960 in Pinar del Rio) is member of the novisima trova, heir to the nueva trova movement. The writer is referencing the popular song from 2002, “Como ser negro y no morir en el intento.” (How to be black and not die in the attempt.)

Translated by ricote

Dissident Attire

4 Apr

Some friends asked me last week in a meeting on non-violence what should they do to survive an unconscionable and uncomfortable imprisonment.  I am not sure for certain, but when I shared the question with an experienced opponent from the eastern part of the island, it turns out that whenever we go out of the house, we put almost the same things in our backpacks.

What follows is an inexact list, since each person knows what he needs for the road, what is heavier or less so, and what things would be superfluous based upon his survival capacity.

I always carry a towel (small so that it takes up less space, 3 feet by 18 inches). A piece of soap, used so that it wouldn’t tempt my captors. Some toothpaste (half a tube), a tooth-brush, a bottle of toilet water (there is nothing like cheap cologne to rub over yourself after a shower in the ‘turkish bath’*.

I never leave without the book “Breakfast of champions,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  When I begin to worry (there is never a time in a cell in which one does not think it might be the last and final time) I read myself pair of vignettes and it raises my spirits a hundredfold.

Two pairs of underpants so I can change them every other day, a few pair of socks to cover my feet, because the jails are notoriously cold.  All this together in a knapsack, bag or backpack does not weigh two pounds.  The girls have told me that they always carry sanitary pads even if their menstrual period hasn’t started.  In the latest blow on February 3 in Camagüey, a few of our sisters began to bleed profusely on account of the stress and only one of them was prepared for the occasion.

I have talked to a few people who prefer to walk around naked and throw their clothing in the hallway of the police headquarters as a sign of protest.  Gabriel Díaz Sánchez and Yoandris Montoya of Avila, of the Youth Movement of Bayamo, remain naked and they begin a long session of naked-bodybuilding that, due to their enormous corpulence, bothers the common prisoners until the police leave them alone in a cell where  they sleep like logs until they are freed.

Contact with the other prisoners is very gratifying. Raudel Ávila Lozada, a hothead of the Political Prison “Pedro Luis Boitel” confesses that he takes advantage of those very long days to teach the ABC’s of political dissidence to the common criminals, to explain to them their rights, who the political prisoners are and why they are in jail. I am a witness that this is fruitful.  I know young people who have joined the opposition movement after meeting some activist in a police headquarters.

Oh, and what they should never lack, is ‘money, moolah, dough.’ Money makes it possible to get someone to bring fresh food, since there is almost always a good soul who will bring you the provisions you request.

Every morning or evening the guards will bring you your belongings for an hour, so you can tidy up and look like a happy man, able to combat the sharpest spears of the most outrageous penal investigation.

(This photo was taken in Las Tunas when a group of young men from other provinces arrived. The next day they were all detained in Camagüey when they marched in the streets in support of the hunger strike of Zapata Tamayo)

*The Turkish bath is the faucet of water for both washing and drinking, and only a foot from the bunks for sleeping (be they concrete or metal).

Translated by ricote

The Way of the Cross of Coco Fariñas

30 Mar

From that photo I keep the warmth with which he embraced me and my wife Exilda. He drew us near a table where they were drinking natural juices and then immediately asked us about our son, about the stones that could be heard hitting the windows in those days when they bestowed upon us an act of repudiation.  It was very distressing.

Several times we tried to inquire about his health, but then the zipper of his pocket got stuck, making it difficult for him to take out a copy of the book by Mario Vargas Llosa, La Fiesta del Chivo, to give us, and then he did not pay attention to our question again. He wrapped the book in a plastic bag, knowing that this small gift was greater than any other object of value.

Coco has been hung on the cross that many Cubans did not how to carry, or which fear does not permit us to carry. His fight is not a self-flagellation, because he is not carrying it out as a kind of penitence, but as a liberation from that fear which was so well described in X-ray of the Fears in Cuba, that excellent edition that Voices of Change prepared some time ago.

Now the Cuban government is again against the wall.  A single man has made the old propaganda machinery in Havana work overtime, doing “voluntary work” and using the reservists of the polygraphic Granma in the struggle to disinform the people 24 lies every second, as if we had not seen this movie before.  Except that today’s viewers are outside in the fresh air and don’t have to buy a ticket to enter the theater whose walls have been broken down by the whirlwind of truths that are revealed to the public.

Translated by ricote