At the time of her death on October 14 in the intensive care ward of Calixto Garcia Hospital, three weeks had passed since Laura Pollan Toldeo had marched with the Ladies in White through the streets of Havana, the scene of her civic odyssey for the release of the political prisoners from the oppressive wave of 2003.
Days before Laura was admitted to the hospital, she faced the last physical aggression of the paramilitary group organized by State Security officials in front of her house at 963 Neptuno Street in Central Havana. A plain clothes policewoman violently bit her right arm, while several criminals shouted obscenities before the masked security officers.
It’s easy to imagine the consequences of the stress induced in this woman of 63, after nearly a decade of persecution, threats, insults and beatings to try to force her to desist from her Sunday visits to the Church of Santa Rita de Casia, in Miramar, from which she emerged accompanied by dozens of mothers and wives of prisoners, who changed the capital’s landscape with their gladioli, white robes and demands for freedom.
Only the vocation for public serve and the personal courage of Laura Pollan, Berta Soler and other women supported the constancy of these Cuban ladies. They raised their voices in the midst of terror, censorship and the indolence imposed by the uniformed despots.
Laura emerged as the leader of this civic resistance under extreme circumstances. She converted her home into the headquarters of the Ladies in White, in front of which her image traveled the world. The humble Spanish and literature teacher surprised the foreign correspondents on the island, the independent press and the Cuban military regime, which organized a siege and tried to link her face and her gentle voice to supposed external enemies.
The courage of this woman and her companions is already a chapter in the history of fights for human rights in Cuba. Her reputation grew in proportion to the regime’s intolerance. It was not for nothing that the Ladies in White received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and other international awards.
Laura did not emerge alive from her ultimate odyssey in the intensive care ward of Calixto Garcia Hospital. There her ailments were multiplied. The acquisition of a virus increased her anemia, blood pressure and respiratory problems that led to her admittance. On Friday night her heart ceased to beat.
The haste with which the authorities incinerated her remains and delivered them in the early morning hours to her husband and daughter is suspicious. The end of her life should not be interpreted as a victory for the government and a defeat of the peaceful opposition. No one know what will happen at 963 Neptuno Street without her presence, but one just has to look at the faces of the afflicted her paid homage between Saturday the 15th and Monday the 17th to know that Laura Pollan Toledo is already back. She is a symbol of light in the night of the Castro regime.
October 19 2011
The narrator and journalist Frank Correa has published a book of stories The Election and another book of poems The necessary bet, but he has several novels, three books of short stories and two poems books on the computer, plus a volume of chronicles of urban characters who survive in the depths of Cuba. Perhaps for that reason he is considered a “drawer writer”*, which brings to mind the Frank Kafka Novel Contest in whose fourth edition Frank won special mention.
Among his unpublished novels are Paying to see, a kind of experiential compendium of a Cuban writer; Long is the night, sent to a contest sponsored by Mario Vargas Llosa; and Train, which recounts the odyssey of a discordant couple who travel from Havana to Palma Soriano, where her father has been arrested for his oppositional ideals.
The writer’s wife is his most recent work and was a finalist for the Franz Kafka Contest for “drawer novels”; the jury gave the award to the narrator Ahmel Echevarría and praised the writing skills of Frank Correa, who is committed to realism as the core of his fictions without avoiding controversial issues, evident in his journalistic performance and in Cubanet and the Primavera, the digital weekly.
As Frank Correa doesn’t weary of struggling with the censorship of Cuban publishers and the indifference of foreign ones, I want to bring to the reader one of his books of tales, as a couple of years ago I accompanied him to meet with the director of Letras Cubanas, who gave him From my shore with the negative verdict of the specialist who acted as a censor of the notebook.
After reading the story I realized that the “procedural reasons” cited by the censor after a year of waiting were obvious. From my shore goes far beyond what is published in Cuba. The double life, the existential void, the exodus, evasion, insanity and other current problems are pulsating in this collection of stories.
Frank’s eleven tales reveal his ability to put together stories, a certain expertise in setting up dialogues, an ability to recreate his personal circumstances and appropriate the uprooting, the language, and the alienation of characters so vital and mundane that they seem to step off the paper and board a train, truck, raft or to return to the galley where the writer found them when he was imprisoned for his contacts with human rights defenders in his native Guantánamo, before moving to Havana in search of new horizons.
From my shore starts with “Viaje a Guantanamo” (“Journey to Guantanamo”), about the anguish of a couple immersed in an insular journey marked by a tragedy. It includes three excellent short stories: “Volver” ( “Return”), a fable about Hemingway and death; “More absurd than a happy day”, a sort of counterpoint on a story; and “Consort”, which incorporates the hunger and paranoia of two nocturnal hunters in a devastated city.
With clear language, precise dialogues and strong characters, the creator is balancing various angles of Cuban life from a realistic and almost testimonial atmosphere. He alternates complex texts such as “Council of prisoners”, “Train”,”Riders” and “From my shore,” with “Little ghosts”, “Thorns” and “Ball of blood,” where the fantasizing oscilates between the military theme, the ineffectiveness of the health system, the hopelessness of a starved marriage and the ethical dilemma of a man before an abortion.
Following Frank Correa’s stories a Note was added that justifies the censorship. A simple un-signed paragraph taking out of circulation a work which should be in our libraries, one previously presented at the Havana Book Fair , as selective and exclusionary as the State that monopolizes the publishing and media.
The hope of discovering a new publishing path for his novels and short stories is a challenge for this author who writes for publications in exile.
*Translator’s note: In Cuba a “drawer writer” is someone who writes for “after the censorship”; that is they write what they want but put it in a drawer, knowing they can never get it published in today’s Cuba.
Translated by: RANC
September 26 2011