Archive for March, 2010

Frightened Women

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

See translator’s note on photo, below.

Several days ago, at a friend’s house, I felt embarrassed to listen to an elementary school teacher who was chatting with the wife of a colleague, whom she consulted about a problem at work over which she had been expelled. When asked if she wanted the matter exposed in the alternative press, the lady got frightened: “What are you saying, man, I don’t want any trouble with the dogs of State Security, who are now going crazy detaining dissidents over the death of a prisoner who died of hunger!”

My friend did not insist, although he knows that the expelled teacher asked his wife for some books that are banned in Cuba and copies of El Nuevo Herald, El Pais and other foreign newspapers that he gets. “She reads, asks questions and shuts up; fear paralyzes her,” said the independent journalist.

The frightened teacher reminds me of a young lawyer, the daughter of an ex-brother-in-law who lives in Miami, who sends her money each month, but couldn’t get her out of the island through Mexico. While waiting to be reunited with her husband who escaped to Florida, the lawyer joined a consultancy, where she applies socialist laws and pays union dues. Behaving well is the tactic she uses so that the government won’t deny her permission to leave.

But fear has a long reach. I know exiles in Miami and New York who while visiting relatives in Havana avoid contact with dissidents, with whom they shared bread and ideas before leaving the island. If they encounter any they tell them, “Sorry brother, but this is very hard; if an informer in the neighborhood reports that I’m with dissidents perhaps they might lock me up again.”

In this category, I place a beautiful friend who has lived in Mexico for over ten years, where she married, became a citizen and has two beautiful daughters. We worked as literary researchers in a cultural institution. From Monterrey, she sends me postcards and she brought me chocolates when she came to visit her parents, whom she treated with care. The distance happened suddenly when she discovered my blog; some posts scared her, according to her mother, who told me on the street in Vedado: “Belinda says you’ve gone mad, that you write as if you do not live in Cuba.”

Other stories show that many ladies and gentlemen sniff danger and run away from the fire; they know that life is short and repression is infinite. Why complicate things with denunciations and contacts with persecuted people? Why challenge the beasts that beat and imprison opponents?

As every rule has honorable exceptions, I know dozens of compatriots who throw aside the masks of fear, pretence and self-censorship. Days ago, Claudia Cadelo posted on Octavo cerco a recording of a verbal confrontation that took place in the lobby of Cine Chaplin, where an employee in the service of State Security prevented her from entering XI Muestra de Nuevos Realizadores (The 11th Annual Sample of New Directors), held in the last week of February.

As the expelled teacher does not have access to the Internet, she could not listen to the confrontation with Claudia Cadelo. Maybe my friend in Mexico and the consulting lawyer will open the blog I mention and smile in admiration. The beasts are afraid of words.

Translator’s note on photograph: This photo is taken from Yoani Sanchez’s blog (31 Aug 2008). Claudia Cadelo (left) and Yoani (right) are holding up a “poster” they made to protest the arrest of Gorki Aguila (center). Claudia had not yet started her own blog, at this time, but wrote a “guest post” on Yoani’s blog, titled “From Paranoia to a Scream,” describing her own turning point which she described: “I believe today marks a turning point from ‘No we can’t’ to ‘Yes we can.’  We have shown that things can change, that we can stand up to injustices and the abuse of power and that fear is NOT infallible.”

Attack on dignity

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

On Saturday, March 20th, at 3:30 pm, I went to 963 Neptuno Street where Laura Pollan lives. With the recent police harassment of her home, it has become the headquarters for “The Ladies in White” who have been demanding from the Government the release of the political prisoners detained since the “Black Spring of 2003”.

From Infanta Street, you could see all the gathering of the agents of the state police, organizers of a riot that interrupted traffic and forced pedestrians to wonder what it was all about. I counted 62 police and 7 field uniform officers at Laura’s door, where she smiled at the mob and defied the police, whose faces denoted fatigue, distress and embarrassment. Only two old black women and a mulatto lady in her forties inveighed against the Ladies in White, who remained unmoved by the insults.

Among the police cordon, Liudmila Tarancón and a cameraman were filming the show for Cuban television. There, minutes before, the independent journalist Odelin Alfonso Torna was arrested for taking pictures. The agents, wearing civilian clothes, gave orders to their contacts. Police patrols and Suzuki motorcycles waited in side streets. From the height of a balcony, a neighbor sympathized with the women under siege. “What a pity!” said some walkers.

I looked at the faces as I walked by, dodged the frightened policemen, and, finally, I could enter the house of Laura Pollan. Minutes later, officers from State Security ordered the withdrawal and opened the street to traffic. The show was over. “The enraged people” waited for the end in whispers. Several plainclothes policemen stood in the street to hunt later, for certain ladies and gentlemen who would come out afterwards.

I talked with Laura and Reyna Luisa, the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a strong and courageous lady in her sixties who came from Banes, where she buried her son in late February. They and the thirty women who demand the release of their sons and husbands, know the system hits and denigrates them through the media to terrorize the masses.

The daily marches of “The Ladies in White” coincide with the international demand for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. Over 20 thousand people have signed the letter on the site, including figures from the art world such as the Spaniards Ana Belén, Victor Manuel and Almodóvar; also a Socialist senator in Chile, the daughter of former President Salvador Allende, a friend of the Castros, and personalities from the sciences, literature and politics in America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The claim is universal.

On Sunday 21, The Ladies in White returned to the streets. They prayed in Santa Rita de Casia’s Church and walked down Fifth Avenue in Miramar to the National Assembly, where they chanted for freedom surrounded by henchmen of the political police who arranged for a bus to take them by force to 963 Neptuno Street, in Centro Habana. They were not further disturbed.

While the official Cuban press is silent and insults those who challenge the intolerance and the wall of control, sympathy grows for The Ladies in White, prisoners of conscience and communicators from the alternative pages that offer wings against the grip of power.

Translated by: Dr. J. Bobadilla

Where Are the Ethics?

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Between December 2009 and March 2010, death and defamation circled over Cuba, mostly not due to the earthquakes nor the usual treacherous campaigns against those who criticize the chaos of our aged leadership, but from the death due to cold of dozens of mental patients in the Mazorra hospital and the demise in prison of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who maintained a hunger strike for more than 80 days to protest the mistreatment of his jailers.

The first event was overshadowed by the earthquake in Haiti, but reappeared in March like a boomerang with the Internet posting of photos taken by the pathologists. The allegations in the alternative press and the international repercussions from the event forced the government to break its silence and take action in the capital’s large mental hospital, where the conditions are hellish.

On the death of Zapata Tamayo, Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, independent journalist and former prisoner of conscience, declared a hunger strike in solidarity with the martyr and the score of political prisoners who are ill. The official response was provided by the journalists Enrique Ubieta Gómez, who denigrated Zapata Tamayo in Cuba Debate and Granma, and by Alberto Núñez Betancourt, author of a diatribe against Fariñas published in the official organ of the communists on Monday, March 8.

Both texts reiterate the intolerance, insolence and contempt for life of those who rule this Island like a camp under seige. They speak of mercenaries, criminals, blackmail and pressure, as if the leaders who think of themselves as gods would reduce to applause the tapestry of our diversity.

The censors did not hesitate to lie to confuse readers and minimize the impact of the unnecessary deaths. But the hammer that strikes the wall of intolerance came from within. The images of the demented and a man’s death from starvation behind bars are stronger than the defamation from the paid employees of the official press.

Both Ubieta Gómez and Núñez Betancourt violated the privacy of people who took on extreme challenges.  Neither knew the life and political trajectory of Orlando Zapata or of Guillermo Fariñas. Both started with a summary from the files handed over by the political police. Labeling these men as mercenaries and counter-revolutionary criminals in the service of a foreign country is as crass as it is unbelievable.

The intrusions on privacy and the distortion of the facts continued with the doctors and officials from the Ministry of the Interior who testified before the press — with information from hidden cameras and listening devices — to the detriment of political secrecy. The case involved the journalist Gladys Rubio, of the National Television News, in charge of the interviews regarding the death of Orlando Zapata.

Ans as if that were not enough, the knights of the Roundtable on Cuban television, dedicated their comments and images to denouncing the “Media Campaign Against the Cuban Government.” They included, of course, a montage about the medical care offered to the slain hunger striker. They added “other actions against the revolution,”such as the marches of the Ladies in White, and the “response of an enraged people,” by which we understand the gross incivility organized by the agents of State Security, who “guard” the Ladies who demand freedom for the political prisoners, which is not mentioned.

Behind the slurs, the voices of the regime hide a fear of the international demands for respect for Human Rights on the island. They denigrate the civil rights activists, provide the public with disinformation, and by the way, cover up the recent corruption scandals of of General Rogelio Acevedo, president of the Civil Aviation Institute, and of General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra,Minister of the Interior who shot his former wife three times.

Obliged to report, the regime’s reporters omit and distort. Privacy must not be used to hide events of social interest; the communicators must respect people, their dignity and decorum, but the relevancy of the event does not benefit those who exercise power.

And so, it’s the same old story and one must ask, “Where are the ethics?”

Fire Balaguer

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Under the banner Fire Balaguer, hundreds of internauts are demanding the resignation of the Minister of Public Health of the Cuban regime, whom they consider responsible for the dismal performance of the island’s medical system, shaken in January by the death of more than 30 patients in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, whose images are circulating on the Internet.

The campaign, launched on Twitter some days ago by Yoani Sanchez, author of the blog Generación Y, has supporters inside and outside Cuba, where there had been no debate about the death of the patients in the large mental hospital in the capital, victims of cold, hunger. and abuse.

José Ramón Balaguer is a militant Castroist. He has held positions in the military and the bureaucratic apparatus of the Communist Party, which he represented in one of the eastern provinces. As Ambassador to the former Soviet Union he witnessed the end of socialism in Europe. Since 2005 he has headed the Ministry of Health, which has been severely affected by lack of resources and by the marketing of medical services to other nations, which requires the neglect of our own clinics and hospitals.

Firing Balaguer is a logical demand, but inconceivable for the proud island leaders, who sacrifice their cronies only when they have stopped being useful or reliable for the Castro brothers, who have governed Cuba like a family farm for a half century. J. R. Balaguer, like Ramiro Valdés and José R. Machado Ventura, is now more visible in the media, which highlights his presence in provincial hospitals and medical meetings, where he speaks of demand and quality.

The deterioration of the health sector, a mainstay of “the successes of the revolution,” has been analyzed by the bloggers and independent journalists, whose chronicles, posts, comments, and pictures about clinics and hospitals testify to the problems ignored by the official press, which clings to ideological goals and slogans.

Although since January the Ministry of Health has adopted some measures to improve care for patients in psychiatric hospitals, the reality is pathetic. The Fire Balaguer campaign reflects the outrage of citizen journalism to the apathy of the authorities. Bloggers and twitterers call for public debate and an end to impunity.

The circulation of the pictures taken by the experts from the Interior Ministry demonstrates the ineptitude of those who keep state secrets. As it is not ven remotely possible to stir the waters of effectiveness under a non-functioning regime, the Cuban cybernauts appeal to the public conscience and try to shake off the social lethargy. The images bear witness to the disaster of the Cuban health system, headed by Mr. Balaguer.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Presumption of Guilt

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

On setting sail from a Florida Marina on his pleasure boat on October 12, 2007, the contractor Yamil Domínguez Ramos planned on enjoying the annual spectacle of whales and dolphins in the water park of Cancun, and then flying to Havana to spend a few days with family before returning to the United States.  He did not imagine that bad weather would force him to seek refuge in the Marina Hemingway, to the west of the Cuban capital, where the suspicions and bad intentions of officials and functionaries transformed a detour into tragedy, when he was accused of illegally trafficking people, and then sentenced to ten years in prison.

Yamil came with hoisted flag, lights lit, with the registration of his boat, with his GPS and all documents in order, included his U.S. and Cuban Passports, the appurtenances of the yacht, some money and some personal possessions.  Upon explaining the emergency circumstances to the border guard, he was notified that Cuban-Americans were not permitted to come ashore, something which does not appear in the catalogs given to boat owners in our marinas. This was the beginning of mix-ups, investigations and a montage of proofs created to demolish his innocence.  From that time on, his mother, sister and wife have been appealing to personalities within the Ministry of the Interior, the Cuban legal system and the Cuban prison system.

Inés María Ramos Napoles, mother of Yamil, summarizes in a Havana document dated February 28, 2009, the process by which mistrust, suspicions, fears, threats and crimes fabricated by the officials were transferred from Marina Hemingway to the headquarters of State Security (Villa Marista) and from there to the prison Combinado del Este, where the sun scarcely shines, and where family visits are not permitted, in spite of the efforts and resources of their lawyer, and the decree of the Supreme Court which ordered the review of the sentence.

The presumption of guilt and the procedural infractions remain in force in spite of letters of denunciation to the President, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Republic.  The fact of having been born in Cuba, and now being an American citizen aggravated his situation, because for the coast guard the yachts from the north come only to transport people and drugs, and make attempts against the Security of the State.  His wife was forced to give false testimony and the family to pay in dollars for all legal assistance.

When the Supreme Court annulled the sentence upon hearing that the wife’s testimony was made under duress, combined with the absence of any proof related to the trafficking of people, the Provincial Court of Havana declared the same sentence with a different date, which was then ratified a year later by the same Supreme Court, evidence that implicates the judicial system.

Two and a half years after a swell forced the contractor Yamil Domínguez Ramos to take refuge in a Havana port, the city of his birth, his family and friends still fight to prove his innocence.  The letters of his mother, the testimony of his wife and some photos and documents were posted on the blog Injusticia notoria on the web page Voces cubanas. The details of the case illustrate the rights that have been breached.

Translated by ricote

Electoral Dance

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Spanish post
March 12 2010


{Before becoming a delegate}            {After becoming a delegate. The briefcase reads “Snitch”}

I think it was on the 4th of January when I broke into laughter, on reading in Juventud Rebelde the declarations of Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, President of the National Assembly, who upon introducing the Municipal Electoral Commission, said, “Millions of people in the world would want to have elections as free and democratic as we have in Cuba”. Yes, he said elections, and not erections.

Since Alarcón is not a professional humorist I looked at the picture again and was able to verify that it was not Nelson Gudín, actor and screenwriter from the television program Deja que yo te cuente, (Let me tell you) which makes us laugh with such tremendous seriousness.  Alarcón is balder than el Bacán and Mente de Pollo (Bighead and Chicken-Mind), but he has as much talent as them.  Maybe that is why he was a diplomat for so many years, and spent two or three five-year terms at the head of the chorus girls that make up the Parliament, where everyone votes unanimously and everyone applauds the Head of State.

Three months after Alarcón’s little joke, the work of the Electoral Commission marches ahead, at least in the national press and in the newspapers and provincial radio stations, all so expert at presenting such a wonderful country that it becomes boring, grey and more monotonous than a dance from the early 20th century.

In the neighborhoods, the meetings of the voters are also predictable and “democratic”, just as the Commission of the Only Party has ordered, although the sham goes back and forth between the danzón and the bolero, according to the place and the hour of the TV soap opera.  At times some young man in jeans with his hips moving to a reggaeton beat might say, “Gentlemen, stop yakking away and lets end this applause because my baby is walking along the Malecon all by herself!”

The bustle of the local functionaries combines with the inertia and desperation of the neighbors, who are accustomed to “electing” those who are chosen from above, always letting the others live in peace, without being an obvious snitch.

Judging by the faces sometimes shown on television, in these meetings apathy reigns, apathy and people who look like they are at a wake.  The disdain with which they sing the national anthem is followed by a report of justifications read by the Delegate, who with great difficulty obtains two or three opinions about this useless performance; then comes the Way of the Cross to nominate the next victim. Then, and thanks to the careful nature of the presiding big shot, someone proposes the personage appointed by the higher ups, who accepts with resignation in the name of Country, Revolution and Socialism.

This ritual is repeated with some variations, at times to the rhythm of the guaracha, like the joker who applauds before he is supposed to, or the child frightened by the shouts against the “enemies that serve imperialism”, by which we mean the peaceful opponents, identified by the populace as Defenders of Human Rights.

Thus the regressive election goes forward, without new plans, debates, proclamations or publicity campaigns. Everything well tied down, so that the enemies of the old men that Mr. Alarcon represents in the National Assembly should not strain themselves.  In April the people will come out from the trauma of voting, just as God calls for “the best and most capable”, perhaps the most corrupt.  The environment is monotonous like an old-fashioned dance, but on the island of parrots and gasbags, democracy is so authentic that it would be enough to elect the mute for everything go on just as it is.

Translated by ricote

Evocation of Caturla*

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

From Wednesday March 3 to Sunday March 7, the Brothers Saiz Association held the XXIV meeting of the event, A Tempo con Caturla, which brought together young instrumentalists in cultural institutions in Villa Clara province, some 200 miles from Havana.

They participated in the gathering of soloists and chamber ensembles that evoked the great composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla (1906-1940), innovator of the island musical stave and founder of the Chamber Orchestra of Remedios (1927) and the Symphony Orchestra Caibarién (1932 ).

The Soloist Orchestra of Havana began the day at Teatro La Caridad de Santa Clara, on Wednesday, March 3 at 9:00pm, while the Quartet Chalumeau set up in the courtyard of the provincial art gallery. In addition, Metales Cuba, Maikel Quartet, the trio Trovarroco, Ruy López Nussa, the Coro de Clave from Sancti Spíritus, Carlos Mora, and municipal music bands like the Remedios, whose museum is named after García Caturla, also performed.

On Thursday, March 4, Elizabeth Hernandez, a musicologist, addressed the theoretical session. On Sunday morning La Banda De Remdios performed at the municipality of the same name, with Chalumeau and the Coro de Clave. At night, in farewell mode, there were open air concerts with other bands in Santa Clara.

Alejandro García Caturla, born in Remedios, where he began his musical studies with Fernando Estrems in 1914, was a pianist, violinist, an occasional singer and director of orchestras and choral groups both in the central region and in Havana. From 1924 he studied singing with the Italians Tina Farinelli and Arturo Bari, and fugue and counterpoint with the composer and Spanish director Pedro San Juan. He traveled to Paris, Barcelona and other cities in Europe and the United States, where he interacted with musicians and directors who spread his creative work.

Caturla was transcended by his huge choral and orchestral legacy. Among his better known compositions we have two Afro-Cuban poems and three Cuban dances, Lucumi Dance, Dance of the Drum and Bembé. Despite the strength and frenzy of his rhythms, Caturla was not a fashionable musician, if not an innovator outside private chapels, and music aesthetics.

The artistic day A Tempo con Caturla evokes his contributions to the national stave and the inclusion of some of his works in the repertoires of orchestras and choral groups of Cuba, America and Europe.

*Alejandro García Caturla (1906 – 1940), Cuban composer

Translated by: Karen vB

Controversial Anniversary

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

If some astrologer were to predict with certainty the end of the Castro dynasty, I would believe in Astrology. But Cubans’ problems are greater than those who make predictions from the stars, because politics is not a place for prophets, worried about questions closer to gods and humans. The case of Cuba extends too far.

The issue comes to the fore because last week several correspondents accredited in Havana and some independent journalists, commented on the unfulfilled promises of Raúl Castro Ruz, appointed by his brother in July 2006 and ratified as president by the National Assembly on February 24, 2008.

The good faith of the reporters and political scientists who thought the new Castro would air out Cuban society found stubbornness,  delaying tactics to gain time, and the signing of accords with allies like Brazil, China, Spain and Venezuela, whose governments opt to preserve Island tyranny, granting them credits and even serving as their interlocutors on the world scene.

The reality reveals that Cuba is a dead society. Raúl Castro was the number-two man of the regime, serving for 47 years as Minister of the Armed Forces and first Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers as well as serving as the number two of the Communist Party and the being the number one general. How can we except change from a character with such credentials?

The reforms were cosmetic, reduced to grants of unproductive land, the sale of computers and mobile phones and the granting of permission for workers to express the problems that affect their performance. After calculating the difficulties, the president made promises but limited himself to replacing the younger leadership with the nomenklatura.

Two years after forging expectations, what prevails is silence and immobility. The institutions are the same, living conditions increasingly deteriorate, and repression of the alternative civil society continues. From the Palace they sell the shield of a besieged nation and dynamite any possible openings for democracy. Resignation, boredom and despair hang over the island society, still tied to the centralized state economy now dependent on the Venezuelan president, partner of the totalitarian Castros.

Raúl Castro is nothing more than a clone, the automatic pilot who saves the equilibrium of the ship created by his brother. The counterpart of his ineffective management lies in the corruption rampant in the subsistence economy. It would be vain to expect reforms from this character, whose second term coincides with the death of the prisoner of Conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who sacrificed his life through a hunger strike in protest of the inhumane conditions of incarceration.

The intolerance and inability to foster change that the country needs turns the younger of the Castros into an echo of his predecessor, that shadow dying in a wheelchair, like a ghost who shocks and lacerates the amorphous body of a nation.

The Dead of Mazorra

March 6, 2010 1 comment


Circulating on the internet for days now are some images that illustrate the deaths of the mentally ill at Mazorra Hospital, the main mental hospital in Havana. The incident occurred between early January and late January. The cold, hunger and abuse claimed more than thirty victims within a few days.

I was there in September 2009. I visited a friend’s brother who survived the disaster. Now I can sympathize. I was horrified that the hospital was without windows.  It had outdoor showers and patients were starved and ill-clothed, which makes one think of the antechamber of hell.

To the dead and their families I express my regrets. I enclose two pictures which I hope will illustrate the chaos of our health system.

Those Russians

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment


The Book Fair has finished its run in the bookstores of the interior of Cuba, but the Cuban press is still celebrating Russia and its culture, as in the days when we marched arm-in-arm with the “indestructible Soviet Union.” But now the bolos* don’t speak of socialism, can’t remember the “Great Lenin,” and don’t send ships with food, weapons, and oil to their Caribbean backyard. Now they’ve returned with some literary works, dozens of films and exhibits on World War II, and the 50th anniversary of relations between Moscow and Havana. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Ordinary Cubans also suffer from amnesia. None of the thousands of Cuban engineers who studied in that country keep up the Siberian bear hugs. The houses of the Soviet technicians and advisers, even the military bases of the former allies, have all been recycled. When the resource pipeline was shut off, and advice on how to build communism stopped, so ended our admiration for the greatness of the Russian soul.

But melancholy nests in the circles of power. A few days ago Raúl Castro fondly recalled his years of learning in the military academies of Moscow, where he used to return for guidance up until 1990. Other generals and ministers expressed nostalgia for the decades of meetings, travel, and vodkas.

The Russians of those days don’t have much to do with the functionaries who now preside over the delegation that came to the Havana Book Fair. In the photos published by the press, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiles beside General Raúl Castro and the Cuban minister, with whom he signed papers and talked about strategic relationships. Behind the words there are plenty of differences. The mandarins of the island are old-timers who flirt, do business, and ask for loans to the country.

Thanks to the Russians of those days, they dismantled our nation. To the Moscow comrades they owe the power that they still wield through blood and fire. The legacy of the Soviet empire was the technical, military, academic, and philosophical support for voluntary socialism, and its imposition by the Castro brothers. Even the instruction manuals on how to repress the Cuban opposition were produced in the secret headquarters of the homeland of Lenin. The officers of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior are the best students of the Slavic troika.

The censors who make editorial decisions about the books we read on the island are the nursery-school graduates of those experts of real socialism. The cultural heritage of the Russians still hangs over the founders, who do not measure up to the exclusive standards set in the offices of the Communist Party, heir to its Soviet counterpart.

A veneer of cynicism covers this display of gratitude to the former Soviet Union. Because the Russians have come to prefer the films of Eisenstein, the art of Konstantin S. Stanislavski, or reading the epic portrayals by Tolstoy, the psychological acuity of Dostoevsky, the irony of Chekhov, and the biting criticism of Soviet society recreated by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novels.

Translator’s note:  “bolos” (literally “bowling pins”) is Cuban slang for “Russians”

Translated by: Tomás A.