Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Reflection in the Mirror: Castro and Mubarak

Mohamed Bouazizi

The newspaper Granma, official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, which also controls the rest of the official media as is common in totalitarian regimes, announces that demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are a response to his thirty years in power.

The news seems to mock Cubans. The Castro government is already threatening to reach double that figure at the helm of the country, leading to ever growing poverty and scarcity.

Common sense, however, seems to fail authorities because a certain logic dictates that they shouldn’t publish this image of Mubarak–their reflection in the mirror. Thirty years in power in the Egyptian nation is bad, but fifty-three years for the Cuban dictatorship is good?

Mubarak declared, according to an interview on the American network ABC, that his departure from power would lead the country into chaos. “I hate to see Egyptians fighting among themselves.” It’s hard to know whether all dictators are the same by nature or if they studied the same manual.

What’s laughable–if such a thing were possible–is that they mock themselves, they defy the most basic common sense. Mubarak and Fidel Castro imagine themselves to be gods, chosen ones, capable of guiding their people if not to prosperity, at least to “dignity.” They have no bread to offer but they try to swindle us with populist ideology. The tragedy is that the price of their love of power is paid by their people.

Also, recently, we have the “bread intifada” in Tunisia, a rebellion against a government that, as the official Cuban press describes it, has been “entrenched in power for 23 years.” In Yemen something similar is happening. In the Ivory Coast the population demands respect for the outcome of its elections. Sudan votes in a referendum of self-determination. Peoples, risking their destiny, tired of being deceived, launch themselves like cannon fodder to impose their will.

Just a few hours ago, national television claimed that representatives from the Mubarak government were holding talks with the opposition. The key question is when will the Castros’ government accept democracy, admit the opposition, and stop ignoring plans that could heal the present national crisis.

Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose death sparked the wave of riots that are shaking the Arab world today, died like Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Neither of them had any other alternative.

February 12 2011

Cuba, We Who Are About to Die Salute You

From Reporters Without Borders

So Orlando Zapata gave himself up with the only weapon he had. Guillermo Fariñas then went to the edge of the abyss, from where it is assumed there is no return, but his spiritual energy carried him and brought him back; besides, the fight is not over, that was only one chapter. Both Zapata and Farina are examples to follow.

Cuban bloggers have endured intimidation, arrests and kicks. And yet it seems little to us if we compare it to the infinite pleasure of communicating, delivering opinions for those who prefer silence out of the fear of retaliation.

The agents of the political police understood that they’re clumsy. Although they continue to engage in physical aggression, now they walk a fine line. They have set in motion the machinery of their means of communication and counterintelligence. Yoani Sánchez was the first, then the blogger Diana Virgen García.

Just around the celebrations of July 26, 2009, the most important holiday of the regime, I was arrested. My ex-wife, after four years of separation and having a relationship with a senior police officer named Pablo, the superior of the Sector Chiefs of the municipality of Plaza, went to the police station at Zapata and C, and accused me of rape. Luckily, at that time I was far from the place that she chose for the false accusation. I was with friends who served as witnesses in the presence of my current partner.

The officer who notified me about the case told me that my ex suffered from a mental disorder, and it was possible she would have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He said that after making the complaint, he explained to her that she would have to take it to Legal Medicine to corroborate that she really had been raped: it was the only way to present such an atrocity before a trial. She refused. Then she showed a medical document where she was diagnosed with an injury to her ear, and a picture of some marks behind it, such as scratches. The officer let her know that in order for the document to be found valid, she had to return to the doctor with a policeman he would assign to her. She also refused to consult the doctor. Regarding the photo, the officer insisted it would be valid only if it had been taken by police specialists, but as there were no visible marks, it didn’t make sense that experts would appear.

Then my ex rescinded the above allegations and said that she was accusing me of stealing some family jewels. The officer began to ask her for a description, to later corroborate it with her family and friends, so they could guarantee that the jewels were really hers, and to compare them with some photo where she was wearing them. She again refused.

She then asked, as if playing a children’s game, that they take another statement, about my stealing money in several currencies, CUCs, dollars and euros, whose total sum barely surpassed $100.

The officer who assisted me could demonstrate to her, with several witnesses, where I was at the time declared by my ex, while she couldn’t present any witnesses or evidence that would incriminate me.

The officer said I could go without imposing any injunction on me. A month later, I passed about sixty meters from my ex. The next day she tried to accuse me of harassment, but they did not accept the complaint

Fifteen days later, at the place where my ex lived, at dawn, there was a short-circuit in some wires near a bush of dry leaves, and a fire broke out. The firemen took more than an hour to arrive. The neighbors had warned them about the power failure and that an accident could happen. My ex was not at home, but the next day, when she appeared, it was at the police station, and she accused me of attempted murder.

However, several caretakers for neighborhood businesses at the residence saw no one near the place; in fact, it’s nearly three meters high and there are two locked gates that the firefighters had to break down.

Twenty-four hours later I was summoned by the police, and witnesses showed where I was at the time of the fire. And they agreed to let me leave. Then, a senior official insisted that I would have to post a bond of 1,500 pesos. Obviously, it was not by chance that days before I had received an invitation to the Festival of the Word in Puerto Rico, signed by the writer Mayra Santos-Febres. With the imposition of the bond my leaving the country was prevented, along with the possibility of being able to communicate with the international media.

Days later they changed the police officer on my case. The new one was announced as Captain Amauri, and in a short time, he was apprised of all the imaginary complaints for which the prosecutor requested more than fifty years in prison.

There was an alleged witness. I don’t know if it was a matter of one complaint in particular or all of them, but the fact is that the day they began the cross-examination, he shouted that they couldn’t force him to testify against me, that he did not know me.

On leaving the police station, the alleged witness presented himself at my house and before my neighbors explained what actually happened. He videotaped the confession.

Then, last July 25, I was summoned to the station because the alleged witness, the only one they could manipulate, had made a complaint against me of threats: “coercion” to not testify against me. They held me for 18 hours without food or water. Only when Castro’s speech for the celebration of the assault on the Moncada barracks was finished did they release me, without the alleged victim having appeared.

I came home and copied 100 CD’s of the confession of the “witness” and delivered it to the police and to whatever media of disclosure exists in this country, although they don’t function. And like the gesture that quiets the orchestra, there was silence.

Today the authorities don’t know what to do with me. They have a totally manipulated trial where the court rejected my witnesses. They know that I have the video where the witness points out the manipulation, the promises and the pressure on him to testify against me.

That’s the way things are. I remember a school friend, who loved Cuban literature, who asked me, days before I started to post on my blog, if I was prepared to face the devastating machinery of the system. I was silent for a while. I thought about the urgent need to communicate about my environment and social problems. I replied that I was not naive, that I knew how far they could go, and I remembered Martí and Lorca.

I must admit I never thought the Cuban political police were so twisted. I never imagined I would get involved in such disgraces. Anyway, it’s always one step more to freedom. The desperation of the system is a symptom of fatigue.

Translated by Regina Anavy

February 9 2011

Cynicism as an Ideology

Photo: Cafe Fuerte / Billboard in Miami

Some days ago, the newspaper Granma published on its first page of news: Google’s censorship of a Cubadebate channel of videos for “copyright infringement,” and the following note: Miami: Billboard Dedicated to the Five Dismantled. The newspaper explained in the associated article: “For 24 hours the air of tolerance and freedom of expression was breathed in Miami. But no  longer.” Then it talked about an organization located in that city, a minority (and the word was not meant sarcastically, quite the contrary), that exercised “the right of freedom of opinion,” and asked for the release of the five spies who are serving sentences in the United States.

The TV news and Granma exalted as they delivered the report. And that seems fine to me. We all have the right to express our opinions from wherever we are, where we want, and by whatever means we choose, or at least whatever we have access to. I will always be a defender of my opinion and of the opinions of others, even if I don’t share them.

Then, ultimately being thinking beings, one is obliged to wonder how much self-censorship is imposed on us? At least in Miami — for 24 hours — they could breathe “the air of tolerance and freedom of expression.” And in Havana?

To underestimate the leaders of Cuba’s government would be foolish; at times I have experienced their ignorance of freedom of expression and tolerance. Now, to the contrary, it turns out that they reclaim it and use the right to exercise it. However, when will we have the opportunity to publish, here, an article in defense of the 75 dissidents imprisoned after summary trials in the spring of 2003?

Where were those who have access to the media when the daughters and wives of those prisoners of conscience were beaten for demanding the release of their loved ones?

When can we publish a note of condolence for the death of the prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata?

Why wasn’t Guillermo Fariñas allowed to explain his reasons for maintaining a hunger strike, beyond the official lies?

Where was the tolerance they demand now when, just a few hours after trying to hijack a tugboat to get to Miami, young men were executed, though no hostages had been harmed? Hostages who appeared more like accomplices, as was known later, when they declared that it was a vile injustice to apply the maximum penalty to the offenders?

What did he say to the mothers of those young men when they went to the prison to bring their children personal hygiene supplies and they were informed that their sons had been shot that night?

When he couldn’t even remember the anniversaries of the victims of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo?

Who pays for the deaths of those innocents? And when?

Who could, on their personal printer — to even think about the possibility of a billboard would be insane with the current regime in power — print a poster with the faces of some of the many innocents executed in half a century of dictatorship?

How long will they prostitute words and not give them the same meaning when they are in favor or opposed?

When will they allow debate on the official website, the conceptually erroneously called Cubadebate?

When have we had, not 24 hours, but just a few minutes of that freedom of expression enjoyed in Miami, or by some who reside in that city?

In another official newspaper, Juventud Rebelde – Rebel Youth — a gentleman named Lazarus Fariñas, resident of Miami (I don’t know the reason he is found there, only that he abandoned Cuban soil like so many thousands of others),  denounces in an article “the corruption of some Florida politicians,” and, contradicting the statement of the official notice of the Communist Party of Cuba, refers to “a lack of tolerance and freedom of expression that exists in Miami.”

First of all, I want to congratulate Mr. Fariñas for that freedom to denounce the political corruption and not subsequently having the police at the door to arrest him and take him to the dungeons of the State Security in Villa Marista, as a dangerous enemy who threatens the maximum power; and also because his family is not besieged, persecuted simply because of their blood bond, and because without the slightest justification he is not left without work and without the possibility that his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews can aspire to attend university.

I want to congratulate him another time for having the ability to publish his point of view in the official Cuban press, something that many of us who have remained on the Island have not managed to achieve, and so, by necessity, we have had to turn to digital media and become bloggers, assuming we will be professionally marginalized, beaten, persecuted, subjected to harassing and fraudulent judicial processes and in many cases end up in prison.

(At that time facing a prosecution request for more than fifty years, the court has rejected my witnesses and accepts no compelling evidence: the recording of the supposed “witness ” to the prosecution where, before a hidden camera, he explains in detail how he has been pressured to declare and exhibit the gifts received in payment).

Mr. Lazaro Fariñas, I assure you that the day you do not agree with the official views of the Cuban government, not only will you cease to be published in the official press, but perhaps you will never set foot on your homeland again. If in doubt, try it. I suppose you have at least one edge that does not converge with the official attitude — think of the children of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, of the young men executed — some fiber of your being will be moved. Then write, try to publish it and you will discover (I cling to the thought that it is naive and romantic, not cynical), that the doors will not open to receive it.

We will be there as a group, waiting, ready to offer supportive companionship.

February 3 2011