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Archive for September, 2011

Making an Appearance

My dear friend Marta Cortiza, married to my other friend, the blogger Eugenio Leal, often used the phrase in the title of this brief posting whenever she called me: “Hello Miriam!, How are you? I’m calling just to make an appearance”. And after the usual introduction we would often get entangled in long conversations that covered topics as varied and contradictory as the sociopolitical situation in Cuba and the world, the minutiae of our families, or the exchange of recipes. I found speaking with Martha as easily natural and spontaneous as if we had been born and raised together, and as if we could read each other’s thoughts.

Just a few years were enough to enhance our extraordinary friendship, forged in the toils and blows that being part of the demonized group of dissidents implies in Cuba, running the same risks and having common interests and shared hopes. Marta’s rare personality combines both a strong will and permanent appeal. She is one of those people who, almost without being noticed, with unmatched candor, becomes essential and close in her affections.

Almost a year ago Little Martha, as I call her in jest, left Cuba. She reunited with her children and grandchildren in Miami and left her many friends here part of her cheerful spirit that still accompanies us in our bustle and blogger meetings. She is cofounder of the blogosphere but never started her own blog. She encouraged our work and supported us from its very inception, and I know that she is linked with our destinies so all the alternative Cuban blogs are thus a little bit hers too.

For this reason and because this is the first time that I cannot congratulate her personally on her birthday this September 26th, I wanted to dedicate this small note as a poor present. If any readers walking the streets of Miami recognize this lady with her warm smile, her honest eyes and her white hair, let it be known that she is a friend of the Cuban free bloggers, that she is a part of us, and that we love her dearly. Here’s to your health, Little Martha! May you have many more, and that I will soon be able to hear your voice on the phone often, uttering that phrase, so nice and familiar: “Hello, Miriam, just making an appearance!”

September 26 2011

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Welcoming Review of a Different Blog

The independent Cuban blogosphere has had an impressive growth in its few years of existence despite low Internet connectivity on the Island. Most blogs that have been set up and kept open during this time are autonomous spaces arising by the spontaneous free will of their respective administrators and, although the authorities insist on including almost all under the generic label of “dissidents,” (in Cuba the slightest sign of independence automatically implies “subversion”) the truth is that at least some of them are not particularly concerned with political issues, with accusations or with the social criticism of the Cuban reality.

In spite of that and without denying that inspirations for criticism abound in a reality such as ours, the continuing growth and diversification of the blogosphere into themes and interests that have nothing to do with the ideological over-saturation we have endured for over half a century is something to celebrate. For that reason, among more powerful ones, I wanted to dedicate a brief overview of the recent birth of a peculiar blog. As far as I know, Cuba did not have a personal blog devoted to culinary and gastronomic topics, irrespective of some, like the blog “Through the Eye of the Needle“, where my friend Rebecca Monzo sometimes inserts one or another recipe. The new space (Voy Caliente), with strong interests in fusion-kitchen; with dietary proposals in line with current world trends and also the bearer of a refreshing ideas segment of young Cuban restaurateurs, brings a little spice to a blogosphere that continues to grow. Each new blog is a sign of the health of the spirit of a consolidated online community.

And if some of my readers find it surprising that a blogger so stubborn and free thinking would pay special attention to a blog seemingly far removed from her everyday comings and goings and her strong voice, I must say that I have reasonable grounds for this, not only because Jorge Ortega Celaya, principal of the new blog, is a great young chef who aspires to someday have his own restaurant with the personal seal of his talent, and whose creations I have often enjoyed, but because this blogger is my oldest son. So the adage “the testimonial is up close and personal” is fulfilled to a T.

Thus, just like I welcomed my son to the world in January 1980, today I want to welcome the blogger, born to the same virtual space I have dwelled in for a few years; a place where – just like he did in real life — he must carve a course for himself. I wish him, of course, all the luck in the world.

September 23 2011

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Solidarity with the Cuban Law Association

Though my regular readers know I don’t usually publish work that I have not written myself, I decided to publish, as an exception, an article from attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association (AJC), my friend and traveling companion. The decision reflects the importance of this partnership for its work in support of the rights of Cubans and the unique and valuable efforts of such a meaningful undertaking in a country lacking in freedom and civic-mindedness. The work of this group of lawyers is as necessary to Cubans as it is dangerous to authorities, hence the official interest in sabotaging its work and trying to distort the nature of the organization and the morale of its members.

Readers can get more information about these events in the forums of the Association, where a series of six works by attorney Mr. Vallín will be published starting today.

I urge readers to follow the posts, since the organization is currently awaiting an answer regarding its application for legalization, and it is the only organization that has filed a legal complaint against the ministration of justice in Cuba for that cause, creating a precedent hitherto unheard of in the history of civic resistance in Cuba in half a century of dictatorship.

Thanks and a big hug,
Miriam Celaya

Disrespect and Right of Reply

Wilfredo Vallín Almeida

This past September 12th, two lawyers from the Cuban Law Association (AJC) in the province of Artemisa got a subpoena signed by sub-Lieutenant Javier Rebozo Pérez to appear before him at the Alquízar State Security Department the next day.

The lawyers of the AJC decided to attend though the first violation was already included in said citation, -this is something we’re used to about the political police- and because neither complied with Article 86 paragraph 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act (they don’t specify the subpoena’s subject), and were, therefore, null and void.

Although they were each “interviewed” separately, the points addressed by the officers in attendance at the meeting can be summarized as follows:

  1. Reasons for the presence of such persons in the Cuban Law Association.
  2. Ambiguity regarding the aims pursued by the AJC.
  3. Counterrevolutionary character of the President of the Organization.
  4. Attorney Wilfredo Vallín’s relationship with known figures of the opposition to the current Cuban government.
  5. Source of the economic resources that the AJC seems to have access to.
  6. Discredit which the Organization will shortly be subjected to through the national media of mass communication.

With the right to reply that any human being should have anywhere and against anything deemed insulting to his dignity, we will answer, one by one, the above points, but in our own way, that is, without hiding our identity behind assumed names, without hiding anything (since there is nothing to hide), and for anyone who wants to know, especially when it comes to our fellow citizens.

We will start with something that was not listed above, but one we consider essential to address. We will respond because, in the face of slander, one cannot remain silent, but –this must be made clear- the Law Association does not recognize that the Cuban State Security Department has any jurisdiction in this matter.

And we don’t recognize its jurisdiction here because:

  1. From the beginning of its establishment, the AJC took on the task, UNDER THE LAWS THAT DO EXIST IN THIS COUNTRY, THOUGH SOME DON’T LIKE IT, to be respectful observers of the tenets of those laws, and to conduct ourselves ethically before the Registry of Associations, The Ministry of Justice, and the national courts that have to do with the ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESS that, ACCORDING TO THE LAW, we have followed to date.
  2. Up to the time I am writing this, we have not received from any of those involved as counterparties, (those we do recognize as bearing the title of AUTHORITIES, and not the mere agents of the same), any expression, in any form, disqualifying of our actions.
  3. The decision of the highest organ imparting justice in the country, the Supreme Court, which acts in our power, recognizes the right of citizens (and therefore ours) to peaceful association, provided that the legally required formalities are followed. We find it hard to admit that the State Security Department is ignorant of this.
  4. In our view, the intervention of the political police in a completely legal process that develops under the laws established by the institutions authorized to do so, in the hands of authorities competent to decide, is, first and foremost, a lack of respect for the nation’s judiciary powers, and the denial of basic citizenship rights we supposedly enjoy.

The shortage of space will result in us having to replicate the rest of the points made at the beginning in the few next AJC blog posts and in those friendly publications that have offered to publish this.

Just one last thing for now: The AJC has a president with a well-known name by those who do not seem to even trust their courts. There is no need to call lesser members. You can call him, and he will be sure to respond without the need for a subpoena.

September 19 2011

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Old and Evil… Yes, but not Wise

Work of Cuban painter Pedro Pablo Oliva

For Cubans, accustomed to living at such a slow pace that time seems to pass only through sheer inertia, as if we belonged to the dizzying world beyond our borders, that other dimension of this universe, recent weeks have begun to make a difference. The Cuban reality has become less apathetic and linear – the obstinate legacy of CAME-style socialism that artificially changed the natural dynamics of a western country — and, suddenly, multiple simultaneous events begin to occur, apparently unconnected, but, when viewed together, respond to the system’s failure and the long accumulation of errors in the sociopolitical and economic life, inevitably pointing to the advent of an era in which accelerated changes can occur in any direction and in an unpredictable manner.

Almost on a daily basis, incidents have been springing up, such as arrests, threats, house confinements, repudiation rallies in various parts of the island by the repression forces and other supporters of the regime, and there have even been raids against presumably prostitute homosexuals these past few days, in the middle of Parque Central, before the vacant eyes of a marble apostle, which ended with the death of a 34-year-old young man in circumstances not clearly established. The common denominator of the victims of the official repression is their claim to universally recognized rights and peaceful methods of struggle, in sharp contrast to the brutality that has been applied in most cases to try to suppress the growing public unrest.

Each day, apparent fear of the authorities is becoming more evident and dissident sectors more visible in the country. Each situation seems favorable to break the false calm that hides behind a slight, though sustained, increase in the contained nonconformity: the parks around the National Capitol, the Mercado Único, the Our Lady of Charity procession on September 8th, the free and spontaneous meetings of citizens’ debates in private homes – whether in Miramar, Nuevo Vedado, or in any other neighborhood in the capital or throughout the country — the growth in independent journalism and in the number of bloggers and even a Christian church in one of the busiest boulevards in Havana that has caused an unusual interruption in the traffic flow and a spectacular deployment of police and Interior Ministry special forces.

Suddenly, without warning, events that just a couple of years ago were unthinkable are taking place. Coincidence? I think not. And there are reasons to believe that the situation may become ever more complex. There is evidence that the repressive actions only serve to stoke the fire of insubordination. More than five decades of totalitarian control have been able to slow the process, but not to prevent it. The accumulation of frustration, lack of perspective and, above all, the despair, don’t provide an environment conducive to the application of repressive measures. The government, whether it likes it or not, should be walking on eggshells.

If this rare situation in the country were not enough, the regime finds itself nearing a complex international juncture that will influence, perhaps decisively, the course of events. Among them are: the elections in Venezuela that could decisively change the current circumstances and force the Cuban government to take urgent steps for changes, the US elections, which could favor the sectors most prone to toughening the sanctions against the regime and thus directly affect revenues to the Cuban economy from several sectors, with an immediate effect on society as a whole; the continuance of the Common Position of the European Union, which tends to isolate the dictatorship, and the global economic crisis, among other things.

While this horizon, full of storm clouds, looms over our near future, the Cuban government continues to further damage its already ruined reputation by supporting dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East, in solidarity with the most repudiated global satrapies; removing the credentials of foreign media representatives; developing its partnerships with new regional leaders, and acting heavy-handedly towards the growing protests inside the country.

Today, when dictatorships are being annihilated, when citizen protests and governmental intolerance converge dangerously, just when the  new rhythm that marks the era may affect despotic powers more so than those lesser individuals deprived of freedom, the Cuban reality is wiping out the old adage “the devil knows more because he is old than because he is the devil”. So, our extremely old rulers are, without a doubt, devils, but they are absolutely not showing us any proof of their wisdom.

September 12 2011

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Your Money, My Money, The Money…

Photo from the Internet

Some signs are so “timely” that they cannot be by chance. A few days ago (Tuesday September 13th, 2011, p. 5.) the newspaper Granma published a full page article that justifies that in 1956 the then young revolutionary F. Castro accepted financial assistance — $50,000 US Dollars! — from former Cuban President Carlos Prío to organize the expedition that would bring together the aspiring guerrillas and the yacht Granma.

The writing, which at times seems taken from a comic strip where the exaltation of the hero is what matters the most — the bold main character swimming across the Rio Grande, an incognito voyage, to elude the vigilance of the evil ones, conspiracy, danger — is only a fragment of a book published by the Publications Office of the State Council, which makes me suppose that the whole book would make Tarzan himself turn pale with envy.

However, what is curious is that the largest newspaper in Cuba, the official organ of the PCC, up to now had devoted several lengthy articles accusing the opposition and civil society groups (Damas de Blanco, independent journalists and bloggers, among others) of having received financial support from abroad, but had not felt compelled to remind its readers of the moral purity of the olive green pedigree … despite the dubious origin of its funding. To this day, as far as I can remember, it had not devoted the same dissident-burning space to argue the tremendous sacrifice of the Venerated one, as he felt so forced to bow before those monies at the time, without its donor suspecting that he was helping to make possible the establishment in Cuba of the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere. Never before was it acknowledged that those “ill-gotten” $50,000 were well worth the humiliation of the leader of the Cuban Revolution!

So the official lampoon shows that what determines the morality of money is the cause it supports, not its source. Since it’s so, I don’t see any moral conflict in which dissidents, whether they are opponents, journalists or any other representatives of the broad front of dissatisfied Cubans, receive some monetary support, especially considering that the government does not seem too concerned about the origin of the capital of many foreign investors in Cuba, nor has it shown any squeamishness in appropriating a not-so-insignificant part of family remittances from the enemy empire, without us knowing for sure what these honorable revenues are used for.

Consequently, if what is dignifying about money is the principle underlying the support, and if that principle is endorsed by groups and individuals who advocate democracy, plurality, inclusion, freedom of expression and, finally, the aspiration by Cubans to exercise all their rights and to bring an end a dictatorship, I cannot think, right now, of a better destiny for the highly demonized funding.

September 16 2011

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Cuba: ¿Did Anarchy Arrive?

A Matter of Faith. Work by Cuban painter Abel Quintero

The Archbishopric of Havana has issued a press release dated September 5th, 2011 which is, at the very least, surprising. I am not referring to the somewhat sallow terms describing the wave of repression unleashed with renewed vigor by government forces against various civil society groups. We know that this is the usual discourse of the Church in Cuba, which explains why it avoids referring to the Ladies in White by that name, by which they are known throughout the world, and, in addition, the statement is limited to detailing the abuses, beatings, arrests and repudiation rallies as “incidents in which the wives of some former prisoners, who were released recently, had been abused, according to their own statements”. We already know that one must be gentle as doves…

In fact, the surprise that the note brings us lies in the government’s unusual revelation to the Church, assuring that “the order to attack these people has not come from any national decision-making center”. No matter how often the kid gloves of the high clergy towards the Cuban authorities might get irksome at times, we must admit that it is not in character for the Church to issue such inaccurate statements, and it must, therefore, be assumed that the Cuban government, in fact, stated what the note from the Havana Archbishopric claims. We should now attempt to analyze its implications, because if we were so naïve as to rely on any government communication, we would now have ample motives for alarm, since it could only lead us to several hypothetical deductions, none of them promising. They would be, for instance, as follows:

  • The government has lost control over the police and the internal order of the country.
  • The strategy of the police force is to act with impunity by their own choice, without our knowing if repressive forces autonomy was declared, or if they are now insubordinate against a central power, which would leave us totally defenseless (more defenseless even than could be possible).
  • In view of this, we are on the edge of another cliff that the General-President did not mention at the close of the VI Congress of the PCC: National chaos. A Cuba without order or control, where police acts of its own accord and the government is not even in condition to open an investigation to establish responsibilities against those who are trampling on defenseless citizens.

The note from the Archbishopric does not clarify — perhaps it is not its duty to do so — if the Church authorities were satisfied with the edict from the government. I say this because, at this moment, there is not only an alarming increase in repression, but it is reinforced and spurred by the media, which is wholly owned by the government, as evidenced by the story that aired on the well-known late TV news show on September 7th, and re-ran on the newscast at noon the next day, demonizing the Ladies in White and, before that, on Monday, September 5th, against well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez. Has the country’s central power also lost control over the media, or does the civilized world no longer classify as repression the public slandering of a country’s citizens, without even acknowledging their right to reply in the same media?

If it were not because we know that this government’s proclamation of innocence is nothing but a mockery, it would seem that we are witnessing a process of anarchy in a society already sufficiently burdened by egregious sociopolitical and economic ills. The good intentions of the Church would not be enough then to avoid violence or “any other way of dealing with the Cuban reality that could affect the peaceful coexistence and disrupt the well-being of the nation”, as the Archbishopric press release states. The “attitudes and gestures that encourage the peaceful development that Cuba needs at this changing stage we live in and that the Cuban people expect and demand” would not be enough either; the aspirations of almost all Cubans, except of the oppressors. If honesty is sought, from any side, we will have to start by recognizing that the “peaceful coexistence” in Cuba has, for some time now being shattered by violence, corruption, loss of values and other moral and material epidemics, and the government has not only taken the most active side, but has enjoyed total impunity.

Who is responsible, then, for the abuses committed against Cuban citizens? What will protect us from the escalation of violence that may occur as a result of irresponsible government? What moral authority does the government have to accuse the dissidents of instigating rebellion, while the forces of repression and official media stir some Cubans’ hatred and violence against other Cubans? Are peaceful dissidents who really are leading a social explosion in Cuba?

The Church, of course, has the answers we need, though it shares with the majority of Cubans the hope to attain a peaceful solution to Cuba’s ills. Church, civil society and dissidence have been demonstrating their rejection to violence. Nevertheless, government statements point dangerously in the opposite direction to peace. Without any doubt, the Cuban dictatorship is clearly moving more and more towards the exact middle point, as distant from God and men as from the nation’s interests.

September 9 2011

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Dying Often, or a Pre-mortem Epitaph

Photo from the Internet

If Mr. F had not been slowly but surely morphing in his living flesh for the past five years, it could be argued that he is now going through another of his many deaths. The first, accompanied by a Proclamation signed by the pre-deceased himself, was the most shocking, because it had the effect of making public and palpable the mortal condition of the, up to then, undefeated commander.  At that time, there was quite a stir not lacking in the most dissimilar feelings, from euphoria seasoned with drinking binges in wait for the anticipated celebration to some or other occasional sincere mourner, those always present in the human geography of this Island. Most people were saying “it was time, though I don’t like to wish anybody dead…” linked to the general belief we have been taught since childhood that to wish others dead means to precipitate our own death. There was not, thus, true interest in the salvation of the Messiah-come-lately, but the care to keep ourselves safe from bad omens. It is well known that in this country superstition has always exceeded worship.

Then, ever more sporadically, Mr. F has been shown to the media (or he has shown himself, we’ll never know) as proof that he is still alive. They have not been very convincing images, but we can see that, in fact, there was still a babbling old man with known features, though visibly deteriorated each time, now dressed in civilian clothes, in shirtsleeves or sports clothes, without the good looks of old, embarrassingly struggling in the mysterious webs of an accelerated decrepitude. Behind a broadcasted “improvement” in his convalescence, we common Cubans would be given only two signals as evidence of his life and questionable lucidity: “Reflections …” and the festive comments of that other lesser carnavalist, Hugo Chávez, the unofficial spokesman for [Cuban] Ground Zero.

Thus began F’s spiritual death before his physical one. His vibrant, fiery speeches, his impeccable uniform with its unique and un-reproducible epaulets, the eternally omnipresent, scraggly beard, his nails slightly projecting from their somewhat crooked fingers that clung tightly to the podium or menacingly shook to the whims of their unrepentant speaker have faded from people’s fancy. Unaware of it or not, Cubans continued to survive in their daily shakes, scratching the day every day, oblivious to their dithering failing genius. Nothing in our lives was significantly better or worse, and, in the presence of those scarce media presentations or other spectral and rare public appearances, a sense of morbid curiosity about the decline of the alpha senior predator, away from the fanfare he loved, has prevailed over a real interest in learning the word of the “leader of the people”. In fact, his words were becoming almost unintelligible, if not incoherent.

About a week ago, some media and informal groups circulated rumors about F’s supposed demise (“now final”). Others say he is in a coma, or is “very critical”, or that he has suffered a relapse (this time without the possibility of another “re-raise”), that he suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s, that he has had cardiorespiratory arrest events, that he recently suffered a stroke, etc., etc. They even say that “Yayabo” won’t come out again. The palace of the olive green caste has not confirmed nor denied these rumors.

Presumably, at this stage of the game and with the complicated picture of the nation’s reality in check mate, the complete disappearance of the patriarch might stir certain more-or-less hidden large interests, but for the average Cuban it won’t mean much. At least for the purposes of our little lives, in the short or medium term, nothing would move too much.

Perhaps the most convincing importance of what  — nevertheless — will be a great event, after such a long wait, is that it would serve to finally illustrate, at the national level, once and for all, the supposed reformist vocation of the General-President, coauthor and heir of our national ruin.  Because some intangible optimists (as a close friend of mine describes them) insist that F’s physical permanence in this world is the only obstacle to free his younger brother’s magical renewing measures and actions of that project they continue calling socialism; bold reforms that will in turn will save this unreality which they continue calling “revolution” despite its stagnation. There are stubborn believers who insist that F’s censure, and not the lack of political eagerness of the General, is actually responsible for the failure of the Sixth Congress of the CCP. Each defends his own illusions.

Let’s not forget that in this life, accounts are settled with those who are alive and not with the dead. This time, or some other time, one of F’s many deaths will turn out to be real and irrefutable. If we are finally on the eve of the biggest show of public mourning this Island has ever experienced, we will see what blame will be attributed then to the very likely failure of the vaunted National Conference next January. Perhaps the “political epitaph” genre will become the next bestseller in Cuban literature.

September 5 2011

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