Archive for June, 2010

Bragado: A Literary Opus as a Spiritual Legacy

June 30, 2010 Leave a comment

On June 22, to mark the death of the writer Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña (Havana 1953 – Miami 2005), the Civic Library Network which distributed his work in Cuba held a gathering to honor the writer and poet, author of stories (Around Zero, Under the Shade), novels (The Wrong Station, Death With No Sender, The Watchful Night, and The Haunted City), and poems (The Umbrella Tree, Curacao 24), works of undeniable clarity, satirical and scriptural courage, even though they appeared at the literary margin through personal circumstances that took him into exile in the United States, where he worked as a journalist, translator and writer for radio and television.

As a creator of imaginary worlds, Bragado approached with irony the aftermath of the abuse of power. The authenticity and strength of his writing offer a vision of reality the humanizes the characters of these alarming stories, alluding to Cuba, though they do not recreate the civic struggles for human rights on the island, nor express the tension of the years he was imprisoned in La Cabaña, which are present in his chronicles and opinion pieces, principally in the Diario de las Américas.

The poetry of this writer borders on fiction, becoming an intellectual exercise of catharsis and ending in the colloquialism that influenced so many practitioners of his generation. His poems restore the memory of the urban environments, the dreams, noise, insomnia, fears, searches and masks. The poem of the little street where he lived in Havana presents the times and the atmosphere of the city, “bestial and angelic… of cascades and hurricanes.”

From nostalgia, Bragado played with words, metaphors and other devices. He recreated in allusive form the tension that characterized his civic activism for democracy in Cuba, without falling into the existential traps and politicization that mars poetry.

Given that Reinaldo Bragado is barely known in his own country, the Civic Library Network that spread his literary and journalistic legacy arose as a communications platform with the aim of promoting reading without censorship. It already encompasses 43 small libraries on the island, whose readers include local artists, human rights activists and people with no political affiliation.

Among the Network’s options for spreading its works are the Messenger Service, Video Debates, lending of books, talk shows and other forms of cultural interactions, particularly among children in communities with limited resources.

Since late 2008 the Reinaldo Bragado Civic Library Network has offered public services on a non-profit basis and without exclusions, although it prioritizes the literary works censured on the island, such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Guillermo Rosales, Antonio Benítez Rojo, Reinaldo Arenas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milán Kundera, Octavio Paz or Vaclav Havel.

Omaida Padrón Azcuy and Juan A. Madrazo Luna, executive coordinators of the Network, organize the business plan in accordance with the works received, circulated, returned and contacts with guest writers, journalists and artists.

The spiritual legacy of Reinaldo Bragado, like that of so many writers who continue their work in exile, belongs equally to the island’s readers and those residing in the provinces — mothers of the diaspora — emerged during the Kalends of the Castro regime.

Images of Heresy

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In the Villa Manuela gallery, the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), ended on Friday 11 June, its exhibition Images of Heresy. The exhibition featured works from Noel Morera and Cellez Elvis Cruz and Gonzalez, two artists who differ and agree on some elements from conceptual and expressive points of view, despite generational and geographic distance that separates them: the first is, producing in El Vedado, and the second at the western end of the island.

Curated by David Mateo, director of Villa Manuela, the exhibition featured 16 pieces in acrylic on canvas, 8 from each craftsman, almost all of similar format and with a certain empathy for the predominance in the allegorical treatment of the human figure and in particular the sexual theme, marked by an allusive and perceptive homo-eroticism.

More than provocative heresies we are looking at appreciations that pass through technique, color and concepts from which emerge spontaneity, distance and chance.

Elvis Cellez (Minas de Matahambre, Pinar del Rio, 1972), shows  official and original works such It’s Still Raining (2007), Loving and Hating (2008) and Facing the Mirror (2010), in which color and the indoor atmosphere emphasize the uncertainty and loneliness of the transvestite, of a young boy naked or the young girl posing with her back next to her bedroom mirror. In the remaining parts the visual message is less palpable.

Noel Morera (Matanzas, 1962), surprised the audience with the freedom and looseness of his paintings, more dark and aggressive. The erotic reveals the essential concern of transcultured Adam and Eve, Eva andGuillermo, and Unmarried Couple.  The first recreates the biblical myth from the perspective of Almodovar of the hermaphrodite as possible origin. The last, less allegorical and more contemporary, is notable for its freedom and harmony of color.

Harmony and composition certify the quality and delight the spectators, caught between aesthetic pleasure and uneasiness. In both creators the center of the image is focused on the left or balanced from the media, without frills or decorative lines.

Morera Cruz studied at the Academia de San Alejandro and the silkscreen workshop “René Portocarrero. He is a member of UNEAC and the Graphic Arts Workshop in Havana. Since 1988 he has held  solo exhibitions in galleries and hotels in Havana, Madrid, Valencia and Istanbul. He works in jewelry and movie posters. His pieces appear in exhibitions in Barcelona, Florence, Ibiza, Mexico, Miami, Toronto, New York, Valencia Varadero and Havana. In 1998 won first place in the Mural Contest CIMEX Building, and in 2002 received the First Prize of the City, both in Havana.

Cellez Gonzalez is a graduate of the Professional School of Plastic Arts of Pinar del Rio and member of UNEAC. Since 1992 he has participated in solo and group exhibitions in cultural centers, museums and galleries in Pinar del Rio, Havana, Holguin and Camaguey. Several of his pieces featured in contemporary art shows in San Jose (Costa Rica), Arizona (USA) and Toronto (Canada). He has received numerous provincial, and national awards, among them that of UNEAC, the Fund of Cultural Assets of Cuba, Cubaneo given by the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva and the Association of Artists and Craftsmen (AACA).

The heretical paintings by Noel Morera and Elvis Cellez Villa Manuela in the island’s summer heat, encourage us to follow these artists. History, color and harmony mask tensions and enliven our imagination.

Images of Heresy

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Darsi Ferrer Freed

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Tuesday, June 22, the Diez de Octubre municipal court decided to release the dissident doctor Darsi Ferrer, who spent almost a year in the capital prison of Valle Grande, accused in July 2009 of acquiring black market materials to repair his house and of verbal threats against two neighbors who helped the police search his house.

As the court is held indoors, both reporters accredited in Cuba as well as some alternative bloggers and independent journalists had to wait for the ruling outside, or in the park on the corner, while the Havana Provincial Court judge, the chief prosecutor for Diez de Octubre and a defense attorney from Cotorro presented the details of the case, marked — surprisingly — by an impartial trial, which took into account the time served by Darsi Ferrer, who essentially completed his sentence before he was tried.

During the process, unfairly delayed under pressure from the political police, represented int he courtroom by a colonel from State Security, the judge had to leave to answer her cellphone, which rang during oral arguments. Of the seven prosecution witnesses only four showed, who almost retracted when questioned by the defense, which presented five witnesses who spoke with self-assurance.

Although the prosecutor asked for a three year sentence, the court imposed one year of correctional labor without imprisonment, with the sentence taking into account time served, and the defendant being freed immediately. Formally, Darsi Ferrer returned to his home to wait for a call from the court to establish his work assignment.

It would be a formality to ask who will compensate Darsi Ferrer for his year in prison, as it is meaningless under the Cuban regime, accustomed to penalizing its peaceful opponents who demand democratic changes on the Island, although the police cover up the detentions under alleged ordinary crimes.

At the end of the trial the foreign press and the independent communicators reported the details of the process, but the attorney did not make a statement as he had to go to another trial at the Havana Provincial Court.

People are saying that the release of the opposition doctor was not only due to the year he spent in prison and the weakness of the alleged crimes, but because of the political cost for the island government which has been condemned by the world community after the February death of the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which made clear to everyone the violation of human rights in Cuba.

Between Praise and Prophecy

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The Uruguayan Fernando Ravsberg, BBC correspondent in Havana, seems the most dynamic and controversial foreign reporter on the island, where he has family and links with various social strata, which gives certain advantages in the perception of Cuban affairs, evident in his reports, interviews and reviews and in his blog posts ( / Letters from Cuba), with which he rounds out his professional performance.

As a free man, Ravsberg has  access the Internet from home, a car, a decent salary, he can travel without state permission and is able to consult news sources closed to the bloggers and independent journalists, whom he keeps at a distance in the name of impartiality, and to avoid contacts with the enemies of regime which provides his press credentials.

Judging by his writings Ravsberg believes neither in the Castro regime nor in the peaceful opposition, which he minimizes, keeping a low profile. Sometimes he acts as a sniper but tries to tell the truth, providing context and measuring all news by the same standard, which is difficult in any setting and almost impossible in ours, marked by censorship and disinformation as it is.

Maybe that’s why Uruguayan correspondent compares the prisoners of conscience in Cuba with Muslim terrorists jailed in the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay United States, talks about his neighbors from Havana who send money to relatives in Madrid or Florida, and offers wide-ranging generalizations that oscillate between prophecy and speculation.

Ravsberg is not a prophet in Havana, but comes out with phrases that Muhammad would envy. Days ago, in an interview with Emiliano Cotelo for El Espectador of Uruguay, he elaborated on the “negotiations” between the Catholic Church and the government of Raul Castro, to whom he gave the benefit of the doubt. Here are some of his claims.

“… it is the first time the government has found a domestic partner to discuss national political issues. To date, the dialog had been with other countries, other governments, parliaments … ”

I don’t know if the categorical Don Fernando knows that in the late seventies, the Castro regime released nearly 4,000 political prisoners, after discussion with some of them and with representatives from the exile in Miami, who then helped with the mass exodus from the port of Mariel (1980). Thus, they got around the Catholic Church and the Cuban Commission for Human Rights. Then they again filled the prisons.

In reviewing the most pressing problems plaguing the island, he affirmed that the issue of political prisoners is “not massively interesting” to Cubans, since they does not have a strong democratic tradition, their interest is focused on achieving material development. Were surveys conducted to substantiate this claim? Does he know that there are thousands of political prisoners for alleged crimes of bombings, social dangerousness and other pretexts? How many relatives and friends of prisoners have been interviewed on BBC?

As if that were not enough, the interviewed reporter prophesied that at “an economic and even political level, Cuba is going toward a model very similar to that of Vietnam.” Has he studied China, Vietnam or North Korea? Sociologically, or economically? Or does be believe in comparisons coined by the Cubanologists?

Although this man has spent many years living in Havana, he still doesn’t understand how we Cubans differ from the Chinese and Vietnamese model of dominaiton, which can fascinate our mandarins, but does not apply to the idiosyncrasies of the Cubans; we know how to unravel many topics and unmask intentions and circumstances. I wish we were as industrious, patient and disciplined as Asians. Time will tell what Raul Castro manages to accomplish with his internal tightening.

According to Ravsberg, “The Catholic Church has supported Raul Castro from the beginning… he is most pragmatic, is reorganizing the country, committed to institutionalizing the process” — understanding the dictatorship — and doesn’t receive “too much international pressure.” He adds that, “the opposition if weak and with little influence.”

There’s no point in pointing out to F.R. the things he doesn’t understand, he tries to speak truth without angering the tyranny, sometimes for the better, others in the post of a prophet or sociologist and even with a touch of humor, as in the story of the detention of Yoani Sanchez, when the police categorized her with a magic word, counterrevolutionary, scaring away the people who were watching.

Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, the BBC correspondent in Havana points to the way forward. We will see if the haste of the White Rabbit stops the Mad Hatter in time.

The Horn of Poverty

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Neither the printed media nor Cuban television commented on the figures published last week by the National Office of Statistics (ONE), which belie the growth expectation announced by the government, and they confirm that the Island is not a bubble within the world economic crisis.

Cuba managed to reduce its trade deficit in 2009 compared to previous years, but it decreased its oil production and the sale of goods, and the health sector was affected by the export of doctors to earn foreign exchange.

Oil production fell by nearly 300,000 tons in 2009 vs. 2008, while natural gas extraction stagnated. Oil production last year was 2.78 million tons and the equivalent in gas was 1.15 million tons, down 3.0 million and 1.16 million respectively, compared to 2008.

Although ONE did not detail the causes of the declines in production, it coincided with the forced purchase of the concessions of the Canadian companies Perbercan and Sherrit International, although the latter continues its operations in other oil blocks located in a stretch of more than 60 miles of the northeast, and processed at the refinery in Cienfuegos, in the central-south of the Island.

The effects of the black gold are less than those occasioned by the import and export of merchandise, because Cuba continued to acquire 93,000 barrels a day, primarily from Venezuela, which finances the crude at partner prices.

The same source said that Cuban exports reached some $ 3.1 billion and the imports $ 9.621 billion, for a total sales volume of $12,721 billion in 2009, which represents a drop of 34% from 2008, which means less raw materials for national industry and more scarcities of essential products for the internal market.

In 2009 Venezuela was our main trading partner with a value of $ 3.389 billion, 36% less than in 2008. China was next with $ 1.821 billion (a drop of 21%), followed by Spain, Canada and the United States, from where the island has acquired food and medicine since 2001, although due to the embargo Cuba is required to pay in cash. Purchases from the USA in 2009 amounted to $ 729 million, with a drop of 30% relative to 2008.

While these figures of the government’s business with its “historic enemy” are hidden from the population, they reveal in part the external dependence and increasing poverty on the island, which spent $ 2.86 billion to acquire oil and derivatives, less than the $ 4.926 billion in 2008; and $ 1.614 billion for food, down from the $2.381 billion of the previous year.

In this picture of a decline in imports and a liquidity crisis, Cuba reduced its trade with Canada by 48.95%, with Spain by 36.44%, and with Venezuela by 35.79%, the latter being the main ally and supporter of the government of the Castro brothers.

The figures reflect the growing poverty and scarcity of basic goods, as foreign trade contracted in 2009: from $14.235 billion in 2008 to $ 0.909 in 2009, a drop of 37%. This corresponded with the policy of reducing purchases and favoring the balance of payments to the detriment of the population, discouraged by the poverty wages they receive from the State, the only owner and employer.

With Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Germany and Holland, the figures oscillated, although the trade with Mexico improved compared to other years, but with a decline of 17%.

The official digits of the National Office of Statistics certify the uncertainty of a country subjugated by centralization and an extreme bureaucracy. If the government promotes economic transition and unleashes the productive forces we will begin to emerge from the ruins. Only in this way will efficiency cease to be just a political slogan.

60 Days on a Hunger Strike

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

On June 14 Yamil Domínguez Ramos completed 60 days on a hunger and thirst strike, behind the bars of Combinado del Este, the biggest prison in Cuba. On only two occasions have the prison authorities allowed his family to visit him, but on May 20 he was transferred to the prison hospital where he was given glucose and a feeding solution.

Yamil Domínguez Ramos is a U.S. citizen of Cuban origins. He was arrested in October 2007 when his pleasure yacht docked at the Marina Hemingway as a result of a storm which prevented him from reaching the resort of Cancun, Mexico, where he intended to enjoy that year’s spectacle of the dolphins. The fact that he had a US passport with a Cuban visa sparked the suspicions of the coast guard, who accused him of human trafficking, though even with coercion they could not force Yamil’s wife to fabricate testimony against him, a person whose only crime had been to not calculate the impunity of the State Security agents, who affected the sentence handed down by the Havana Provincial Court.

Yamil, a contractor in the U.S., appealed through his hunger strike the denial of the Cuban courts to review his case and render a fair decision.

Both his wife (Marleny González) and his sister (Yadaimí Domínguez Ramos) appealed in vain before the Supreme Court, which on one occasion demanded a review of the case, but then accepted the same sentence they had questioned from the Provincial Court, which reveals the limits of justice under the Castro regime.

Neither the Cuban Commission for Human Rights nor the international organizations that monitor human rights violations on the island have declared Yamil Domínguez Ramos a political prisoner, which keeps him at the mercy of the jailers, whose impunity is expressed in the 60 days of suffering and physical frailty.

Those wishing to know the particulars of the case can link to the blog Notorious Injustice, or call his wife (205-9076) or sister (203-2956) who are exhausting themselves in court proceedings and calling for the attention of the independent press and the foreign reporters accredited in Havana.

The prolonged hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas from Santa Clara to demand the release of the 26 prisoners of conscience who are ill, and in addition the six hunger strikers, encourages a review of the subject by the Cuban authorities. After 60 days of a hunger and thirst strike in Combinado del Esto, Yamil Dominguez Ramos has taken on the challenge of peaceful dissent.

Darsi Ferrer Trial

June 18, 2010 1 comment

After eleven months in detention, the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana has set Tuesday, June 22, for the trial against the opposition figure Darsi Ferrer, who will be tried for the alleged crimes of assault and receiving stolen property, fabricated by the agents of the Political Police (State Security) with respect to his civic activism as the leader of Health and Human Rights in Cuba.

Darsi Ferrer, interned since July 2009 in the capital’s prison, Valle Grande, was the victim of a police beating and forced search of his home, where the police seized two bags of cement and some rebar. Protesting these violations, he was arrested.

According to Yusnaimi Jorge, the activist’s wife, the search was part of a political stunt in which they used the police and pro-government neighbors. As the order did not meet the requirements of the Criminal Procedures Law, her husband refused to let them in, so they broke down the door with the help of a neighbor who today figures as a witness to the supposed offenses.

The “irrelevance of the case” is such that Darsi Ferrer’s dossier circulated to the Provincial Municipal Court, the Villa Marista headquarters of State Security, and, finally, to the Deputy Attorney General of the Republic, who supposedly ordered the process to continue.

This trial is extremely delayed. Darsi could have been bailed out on a bond and sent home to wait, because he has no criminal record, in a peaceful activist, and the alleged crime is very minor and a very common one in Cuba.

The case has gained worldwide prominence because  during his imprisonment the dissident doctor declared two hunger strikes, was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and received the help of human rights defenders, principally from the black communities in Brazil and the United States, whose leaders interceded for him with presidents Lula da Silva and Raul Castro.

Yusnaimi Jorge charges that the judicial authorities “went to the extreme of rejecting three Changes of measures requested by the defense.” As the Prosecutor is now calling for three years’ imprisonment against Darsi Ferrer, he fears that the trial be converted into another farce, as has happened with hundreds of opponents who are imprisoned for alleged attacks, receiving stolen property, and slanders that denigrate the moral status of persons who peacefully denounce the violations of human rights in Cuba.

Looking for an Attorney?

June 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Last week a cartoon in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde sparked meetings in the law offices in Havana, called by the provincial directorate to analyze the graphic parody of a guy dressed as a bullfighter who was looking for a lawyer.

The meetings are as absurd as the satire of these law enforcement officers, who reap the dissatisfaction of the clients who contract for the services offered by the municipal network, without taking into account that the lawyer must work within the bureaucratic state institutions that delay the proceedings and determine the decisions.

Instead of a bullfighter, the lawyer is the one who sticks the banderillas in the neck of the Cuban justice system, as dependent on the government as are the businesses, schools and hospitals of the island, where everything turns on a group of old men who control all of life through power.

Faced with a criminal action, the lawyer is the legal operator most interested in fulfilling the duties and procedural rights of the accused. He is the only one who reports to the client about the steps taken, but his influence and efforts don’t determine the speed of the judgments; the judges and prosecutors are more likely to decide.

The lawyer advises companies, handles divorces, claims of heirs, administrative, labor and legal litigation. He is the most comprehensive legal counsel and, paradoxically, the only one who decides nothing. He can act as expeditiously as possible, but that has no effect on the decisions taken by State institutions, whose dynamic is marked by orders and decisions from a higher level and by less visible bodies such as the one Party and State Security.

Sometimes it is unfair to the lawyers. Almost no one remembers that to practice law in Cuba you have to belong to the National Organization of Collective Law Offices, which is self-financed and in theory constitutes a Non-Governmental Organization, but one which reports to the Ministry of Justice and functions like one more piece of the enormous State apparatus.

The lawyer must comply with State guidelines and standards of practice, which demand continued membership and compliance. His salary depends on the cases completed, but the pay received is less than what the client pays to the contracted firm, which does not guarantee lunch nor transportation for his efforts with police training units, prisons, prosecutors, courts, housing offices or notaries. Added to these difficulties in the fights against arbitrary detentions by many of the police and the complicity of judges and prosecutors, who limit their suggestions to those families of the accused who seek a lawyer.

Perhaps a client will goad a law firm, but it never occurs to anyone to take on the judge who dictates a six month sentence after the trial, a notary public who issues a certificate of inheritance nearly a year late, a prosecutor who delays for weeks a request for a change of measures, or the housing official who rules when he gets around to it.

The voz populi says that lawyers deceive the public, demand money, and sometimes cheat, which is not true of the majority but shows the thread of corruption that runs equally through notaries, judges and prosecutors, who survive off the “collateral search.” Rather than caricaturing this problem it would be worthwhile if the official press faced it head on without omitting the faults of the system that generates it.


June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

The news cycle moves from local to global, although some would like to prove otherwise. In Havana, for example, political marketing disguises the collective misery and the social indolence in its exportable model. Half a century of campaigns against the United States have convinced half the world of the evils of the monster and the virtues of the Castro regime, bolstered in its decrepitude by Chavez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, Zapatero in Spain and the Chinese mandarins.

But the charisma, the power and even the marketing of the regime are wearing off. The contradictions grow and some people discover them. Others do not see nor hear because they are stuck in the past, in love with ideas, or shared businesses. What is that nonsense about political prisoners? Or peaceful opponents? Or women dressed in white while Castro I is in his death throes and his heirs keep quiet?

Who cares about human rights on the island when the leftist press is not addressing the issue? What difference does it make to the rest of the world? Galeano, Saramago, Sabina or Ramonet, they would all need a magnifying glass to see it. For them, the truth emerges from the speeches of the State. Cuba, however, is more complex than the picture drawn by the Communist Party’s Minister of Truth.

Now Castro II has met with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, whose Archbishop informed us that he spoke of easing the conditions of the political prisoners: free some, move others closer to home and hospitalize the dying. Perhaps then Guillermo Farinas will end his hunger strike and the international community will stop criticizing the Caribbean bigwigs.

You do not need a mediator to issue orders to the jailers. More than a “humanitarian gesture” or the conciliation of the Bishops, it would be enough to decriminalize political dissent and open the floodgates of freedom.

The existence of political prisoners is barely recognized and there is no talk of the opposition, save to denigrate them as possible interlocutors of the regime, gripped by contradictions overlooked by the press: the failure to ratify international agreements on human rights, signed in February 2008, the corruption and the sinking market, the export of health services to the detriment of the nation, the daily despair in the face of the secret hopes of consumption and the postponing of changes to buy time and create expectations.

The government still defies the United Nations, asks for more loans while it doesn’t pay the Paris Club, of which it is the second largest debtor in the world; it negotiates with China for finer optic cable but doesn’t allow its citizens to access the Internet; it slows the development opportunities for its people; chatters on about its principles while repressing peaceful opponents and demonizing the diaspora, whose family remittances are one of the major sources of foreign currency circulating on the island.

The passion for power of the old men who rule is the governing chorus of any attempt to improve the plight of the people. Last year they raised the retirement age and months later announced the dismissal of a million workers. How can we come to grips with the problem?

Despite the silence and omissions of the official press, the growing contradictions spell the end of the Castro regime. Yet freedom is not a single viable concept, but many interwoven projects on the highway of the future.