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Challengers Gala / Miguel Iturria Savon

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

On Sunday morning November 21 you could hardly walk down Galiano Street in Central Havana, as expectation reigned in front of the American Theatre, home of musical and comedic performances, now converted into a Coliseum of muscles by the Cuban Association of Bodybuilding, which held its gala Challenge of Champions, broadcast on the sports channel of national television, something unusual since athletes who cultivate the aesthetic of the body are not yet officially recognized.

Those of us who could not get to the ticket sellers window of the theater went to the scalpers, who offered them for two CUC, equivalent to two dollars, an acceptable amount due to the rarity of the spectacle, distinguished by the initial parade of athletes, finalists of the previous year who took the stage together and then, to the beat of the music, everyone did their performance, while the jury made notes and the audience clapped or whispered.

Since in Cuba there is both a provincial and a national competition, which designates the winners by weight class, (65 kilograms,  70, 75, 80, 90 and over 90), all the champions have the right to appear at the Gala of the Challengers, with the goal of appointing  the best amongst them, making the event the most important and colorful as it will select the Absolute Champion, recognized as the most comprehensive body builder on the island.

Between the National Championship and the Challenge of Champions is a time of preparation, as these athletes depend on fitness, a specialised diet, will and self-esteem as the essential elements.

Competitors are not measured by strength, size or age, but by a set of requirements such as muscle mass (volume), definition, symmetry, harmony and vascularity.

On Sunday the 21st,  the jury appointed by the Cuban Association of bodybuilding chose five from among the champions presented at the match of the Challengers.  First place went to Tony, who also won in 2009 and retains the scepter of Absolute Champion. He was joined at the top by Trinquete, Miguel Castro, Tomás and Alburquerque, winners of the 2nd through fifth positions, respectively.

Leaving the American Theatre, while photographing the Champion and trying to ask his last name and other details, I thought of the enormous challenge of these athletes of the sculptured bodies, excluded from official competetion, lacking a national team and representatives within or outside the island, without travel or help to support their small gymnasiums, and classified years ago as lazy and narcissistic.

They lack support but compete for love, obtain public spaces, self-finance their training and events, have their own NGO (ACF) and legendary figures such as Miguel ‘Smorgasbord” Cambolo, Maximo, Ariel Flores and the legendary Sergio Oliva, Cuba’s most emblematic bodybuilder, former member of the national weightlifting team, who emigrated to the United States, where he won the Mr. Olympia prize between 1967 and 1969 and lost in 1970 to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a paradigm of success and a patron of the sport in North America and the world.

Translated by ricote

Of Danger and Other Miseries / Miguel Iturria Savón

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Weeks ago, in the municipality of Cotorro, southeast of Havana, dozens of photos of girls engaging in sexual acts with men and with each other were leaked by means of compact disks, flash memory, cell phones and digital cameras. Although some of the girls surprised the “curious” by their irreproachable prior behavior,  the most questionable part of this story lies not in the exercise of sexual self-determination of such persons, but in the unscrupulous person who put the images of these practices into the public domain.

This, in itself, converted the girls into victims of the crime of sexual outrage, perhaps because those involved did not give consent to the release of the images, which damages rights inherent in personality, privacy and self-image, although we know that the right to one’s own image — a part of the right to privacy — is violated in many places.

The photos published not only converted the girls into victims of their acts, it affected boyfriends, relatives, neighbors and others. One of the girls, aged 17, was convicted of dangerousness, on the charge of the presumed practice of prostitution. The trial was conducted with open doors, instead of being held in private as appropriate to the sensitivity of the matter.

The most unusual part of the hearing was that they took the photos — debated publicly in the courtroom — as evidence, something unnecessary as there was no denial of the practice of prostitution.

To make matters worse, the girl was subjected to a thorough interrogation, very indiscreet of course, about the intimate details of her practices, which reminded me of the witch hunts of the Inquisition. I never saw, with my own eyes, anyone so humiliated.

As if it were nothing, the girl was sentenced to four years in a specialized center for work or study, the maximum sentence for the crime of dangerousness. I have heard that these centers are nothing more than prisons.

I do not know the girl but I am sure that right now, without counting upcoming sanctions, she has more than paid the consequences of her reckless immaturity. She is a victim of the person who devoured her honor. I went to her parents, who were present at the trial, to express my regret for what awaits them. What will become of her in prison with this kind of help?

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Martyrs of Defiance

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Prisons crown the dead zone of the Cuban reality, where the omission of information is an accomplice to forgetfulness. Sorting through the official defenses of Castro’s repressive stage machinery helps us discover the swamp flowers of the island prison. The letters and testimonials illuminate the names of 12 political prisoners who died between 1966 and 2010, as a consequence of hunger strikes against the impunity of the guards.

Cuba Archive has posted data on the internet about those who challenged torture, forced labor, malnutrition and lack of medical care. Among these martyrs against laziness, stubbornness, intransigence and cruelty, three died in the Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana, one in the Isle of Pines prison, one in Pinar del Río , two in Pretesando prison and one in Manacas prison in Las Villas, one in Kilo 7 (Camagüey), 1 in Boniato (Santiago de Cuba) and two in other prisons in the capital.

The hunger strikers who were killed by starvation in the prisons of the Castro regime ranged between the ages of 25 and 45. The first was Roberto López Chávez, who died on November 12, 1966, after 70 days of protest against the beatings by guards, who denied him even water. In September 1967 Luis Alvarez Rios and Francisco Aguirre  Vidaurreta gave their lives.  The list includes Carmelo Mesa Hernandez, on July 29, 1969, Pedro Luis Boitel in 1972 and Olegario Charlot Spileta and Enrique García Cuevas, in January and May 1973.

Pedro Luis Boitel, who died on May 25, 1972 in the depths of Principe prison was the best known before Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was transferred from Camaguey to Combinado del Este (Havana) in February 2010. The Martyrdom of Boitel lasted 53 days, the  agony of Zapata was extended for 82 days. Both are symbols of rebellion.

The torture continues with Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo, 21 May 1975 in a prison of Pinar del Rio, where he  demanded his release after a decade of confinement.  Two years later, on September 22, 1977, the inmates of Pretensado were witnesses to the death of Pedro Jose Barrios.

On August 9, 1985, while fasting in Kilo 7, cardiac arrest ended the anguish of Santiago Roche Valle, 45, who is now reborn from oblivion, just like Nicolás González Regueiro, who died in a cell in Manacas, on the 16th of  September 1992, after four years in prison for “distributing enemy propaganda.”

The documents record hundreds of hunger strikers in half a century of dictatorship, but only 12 died of hunger due to the negligence of the guards. The silence of the press confirms the responsibility of the military government, which in the name of the revolutionary utopia justifies the disregard for life.

There is still no monument to perpetuate the memory of these martyrs of personal challenge. Hopefully, they will be the last, although Guillermo Farinas has been on a hunger strike for two months seeking the release of 26 ill prisoners of conscience.

Translated by ricote

Tato and Roberto

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Tato and Roberto, two messengers from the Cruz Verde neighborhood in Cotorro, City of Havana, are angry with the local police and the inspectors from the Director of Commerce. They took a hand cart from Tato, 69 and now retired, which he used to carry merchandise to his customers. The two wheels could easily be sold to the ambulances of the city, which lack tires.

Roberto, 81, was fined a hundred pesos and they prohibited him from using his little cart, whose wheels could also be used for a bicycle, according to the inspectors. They did not invalidate the license of the old man, who now distributes bread and other merchandise in the “not suspicious cart” of Chungo, another messenger who has seen 85 springs.

The neighbors of Tato and Roberto think that the fines and the expropriation of the vehicles is somewhat absurd, since they don’t contaminate the atmosphere nor throw trash in the streets.  One of the spiteful neighbors remembers that previously two ambulances were surprised by the police upon leaving the textile factory at ten o’clock at night.  They did not carry sick people, but blankets for the black market.  Nobody asked the ambulance drivers if the tires were from the cart of old Tato.

Although under police siege,  they also calculate who is traveling about in bicycles with plastic boxes that supposedly belong to the milk plant of Havana, to the Hatuey Brewery – now “Guido Pérez” – or other productive centers of Cotorro, where state resources are “divided and diverted” in spite of the controls, fines and judgments.

A magistrate affirmed a few days ago that the workers in some local factories act as if they were owners, at least during the nocturnal shifts.  Wheels, blankets, cases of beer, and bundles of cloth, cheese and even shoes are black marketed outside and inside these facilities. The ninjas working there resemble magicians in their ability to put custodians, police officers and directors to sleep.

Suspicion and extreme measures are called for, as are the commentaries about the millions of dollars that General Rogelio Acevedo,  his son and wife supposedly diverted to their personal accounts.  During the time this general sacrificed more than 20 years as the head of the Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba, they say that his comrades deposited 134 million in three little accounts that were detected by the enemies of the Revolution.  The poor guy is now sitting in his pajamas at home.

Tato and Roberto probably do not know about these things because they don’t have telephones, computers, or internet access.  If they were informed by some neighbor’s cable they might come to think that the rope breaks for the weakest.  Their little carts with the suspicious wheels were taken away, but what will happen to General Acevedo?  Will everything be all right?  Will they judge him? Will they tell “the truth” on The Roundtable TV show?

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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

caricatura-sobre-elecciones

{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