Archive for April, 2013

Image taken from Gabito Groups

While Telesur and the official Cuban media distract us these days with Venezuela’s political brawls and other conflicts elsewhere in the world, I received a Twitter message on my mobile about the hunger strike just started by 46 Cubans from  National Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a coalition of opponents that groups members in several provinces of the island, especially the eastern region.

Yesterday, they informed me that activists of the Pedro Luis Boytel National Movement, of the Rosa Parks movement, and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo FN have joined the province of Camagüey sit-in. Indeed, from this very blog I have expressed, more than once, that I do not approve of hunger strikes as a method of struggle, but today I cannot but express my solidarity with these fellow travelers and respect and support their sacrifice.

The initial demand for the release of Luis E. Igarza Lozada, imprisoned and on strike as of 13 days ago, has even spread to some parts of the province of Matanzas. Posters, leaflets, graffiti and pot-banging protests have been supporting the strikers in various cities and towns of eastern Cuba, amid repression manifested in arrests, beatings, threats and suspension of cellular service to prevent the world from knowing about what happens in Cuba.

The best weapon the activists of the opposition can now count on in their just demand is our support and solidarity. Let’s use the means at our disposal so that they are not alone.  Let’s not allow the cymbals of the Palace of the Revolution, praising their Venezuelan ward, silence the peaceful struggle of our brothers in arms. Let’s boost their voices by spreading the truth about what is happening, and by demanding the release of all political prisoners. We can all be activists against Castro’s repression; do not forget that silence, fear, and indifference are the main allies of the oppressors.

Let’s make a difference.

Translated by Norma Whiting

22 April 2013

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The torture of the opponent Hatuey

HAVANA, Cuba, April, http://www.cubanet.org-   On Monday, April 8th, Cubanet published an article by colleague Jorge Olivera Castillo (Equilibrar la Balanza), which was as surprising as it was regrettable. A fellow traveler who has proven his courage and integrity in the fight against the dictatorship and shared spaces with numerous members of the independent Cuban blogosphere should be more serious and careful when expressing himself.

Perhaps Olivera may have had a bad experience and some day he will understand that lies and veiled criteria do not replace opinions and arguments, but neither do I think it fit to keep silent in the presence of what I consider at least unfair and inaccurate, so to speak. I’m a blogger and freelance journalist, so I feel alluded to in his article and make public my displeasure.

Optimism should not be confused with “triumphalism”, as my colleague Olivera refers to the expectation triggered by the blogging activity of over five years, and also unfortunate is his question about “what the impact could be (of blogging) within national boundaries, when the vast majority of Cubans do not have a computer or internet connection possibilities”.

That observation is doubly unfortunate because, first, although most Cubans don’t have free internet access and that hinders full dissemination of our work, I do not see that any other dissident faction has better possibilities to present their proposals quickly and effectively, and second, because a significant number of bloggers have been the voice of many Cubans, which has proven useful when reporting violations and mobilizing solidarity for all repressed, including political prisoners, and especially the prisoners of the Black Spring.

Olivera asks “how many Cubans would be able to become tweeters, when each transmission costs a little just over a dollar in a country where the average salary is around $20 a month”, and I would ask him how many he thinks would be willing to march through the streets following opposition leaders, demanding their rights or protesting the against the excesses of government. I would also ask him why all those opponents, whose mobile phones are regularly recharged by friends and supporters from outside Cuba, are not tweeters, and what prevents a freelance journalist from opening his own blog and a Twitter account, thus strengthening his voice and those of others to the extent they are willing to do it.

It is possible that the ignorance of the complexities of the blogger phenomenon continues to produce some fears as to the feeling that this is a privileged caste. Many are unaware that maintaining a blog from Cuba has been a source of expense, rather than income, for us. We don’t charge for posting our ideas in a blog, but we have to spend our own money on cards to connect from public spaces in the city so we can keep our personal sites updated.

Our efforts aroused the sympathy and support of many friends who began to give us cards, helped open up many doors, and there even appeared some who were trained to upload our posts when we could not do it. Interestingly, before the renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez won her first Ortega y Gasset award, nobody seemed perturbed that there were at least five active independent blogs in Cuba, or worried about how we managed to post regularly on our web platform. In fact, hardly anyone knew what a blog was around here, and still there are those who are completely unaware of the use of this tool and perhaps that’s the reason they prefer to discredit it rather than to learn how to utilize it.

Another error is believing that the independent blogosphere is “the culmination of a process that spans more than three decades of sustained efforts on the part of hundreds of human rights activists, political opponents, independent journalists and librarians …”, not only because all social or political processes are heir to the accumulation of multiple previous experiences and circumstantial factors, but also because the blogger phenomenon does not represent a culmination in itself, but a conveyer of its own dynamism, barely a phase that will inevitably continue to transform itself into the evolution of civic struggle against the regime.

In fact, for a long time, several bloggers were previously in the process of developing intense dissident activity, either as independent journalists (as in the case of Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas Castellanos and this writer, among others), or as editors of the first digital magazine, edited and directed from Cuba, which -by the way- did not pay for the contributions of collaborators, since it absolutely lacked any funds or funding, which is why many independent journalists who today attack bloggers refused to collaborate in it then.

Therefore, it is not about that “bloggers reached dissidence”, but exactly the opposite: many dissidents -some hitherto unknown- became bloggers.

Of course, everything has a history, but not necessarily that which colleague Olivera indicates, but the key point is to understand who is considered sufficiently qualified or licensed to narrow historical margins and the inferences and influences of each phenomenon. In that vein, we should recognize the Indian Hatuey and Guamá as the parents of the current Cuban dissidence, for they were “first” in insubordination … We need a bit of contention, don’t you think?

Among the bloggers who now are now the focus of so much discredit -and not only from the authorities, apparently- there are some who had even belonged to opposition parties from before. It is not only about our “new generations” of dissidents. I take this opportunity to make a timely comment: there is no dissident pedigree that allots special merits to those who have been imprisoned or have “arrived before,” as the term is applied by the government, depending on whether or not someone came over on the yacht Granma, was in the Sierra Maestra or not, etc.

To my knowledge, no opponent has been imprisoned by choice but by the arbitrary and repressive sign of a government that we all fight against, that attributes itself the prerogative to select how, when and to whom to apply it, without anyone -before, now, or after- being able to consider himself a sort of supreme magister or chosen one because of it. I, for one, do not aspire to a “merit” that doesn’t even depend on my political performance, but on the sinister tricks of the Castros. The goal is to reach democracy, not the dungeons.

The alarmism that Olivera oozes in the mentioned article seems to derive more from a mixture of animosity and frustration than from some genuine concern, when referring to a supposed “over-dimensioning” for the use of the Internet as an anti-dictatorial tool, or when -at the opposite end, under-valuing such activism- he slips in the phrase “the main question takes route in intramural influence, and that probability is far from realization through the use of the web”.

With all due respect, it turns out to be more hilarious than offensive, but we need to be realistic: the existence of blogs does not block anyone’s dissident path, and we bloggers have never considered that the simple use of the Internet constitutes a kind of secret weapon capable of influencing, by itself, the collective consciousness within Cuba.

However, I would dare say that, since it is capable of creating solidarity networks, up-to-date underground information, and establishing bridges among the different forms and “political and civil entities”, such as Olivera terms them, the blogosphere has demonstrated ample capacity and efficacy. No wonder there have even been special programs dedicated to blogging activity and tweets broadcast on Cuban radio stations abroad reaching a large listening population on the Island. Perhaps the journalist should have researched beforehand with the dozens of tweeters in Cuba whose best weapon for protesting and personal defense has been precisely a cellular phone with a Twitter account.

I firmly believe that if Olivera had heard “rumors that could be the seed of unfortunate ruptures in near future”, he should have stopped them. Rumors only thrive on the receptive ears of those who are willing to pass them on. That may be why no one comes to “rumor” anything with me. I would not allow anyone to speak ill of the efforts of my fellow travelers, whether journalists, figures of the opposition parties, librarians, bloggers or tweeters. Anyway, the “reasons” for a scam are never as “obvious”, as the colleague claims.  The tangles are simply not rational, but emotional, and in all cases, counterproductive.

We could expand into a debate that, far from harmful, would be useful for banishing such an attitude, but it might be better to summon the “preoccupied” to a face-to-face discussion, without “rumors”. Suffice it to remind the colleague and those who have not heard it yet, that, to date, since its inception, the blogosphere has not only consolidated, but in its midst are people who are generous enough to share their knowledge and to multiply it in a community that increases the voice of numerous sectors of Cubans of all beliefs and leanings, thus shaping many who are now able to spread a whole spectrum of opinion and information that otherwise could not be accomplished in such a short time.

Personally, I would never dream of putting the work of any dissident group, or of that of any rebellious brother, on a “scale”. The efforts of all Cubans, on any shore and position, to achieve Cuba’s democracy seems invaluable to me.  It would be truly more productive for us not to worry so much about the visibility or the awards any of our colleagues receive.  Let’s celebrate their well-earned victories together, and above all, let’s take care to balance the underlying emotions.

19 April 2013

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Preliminary Note to readers: For reasons way beyond my control, I did not have the chance to update the blog for many days. The Desdecuba.com page was hacked twice, and Yoani Sánchez and other friends are still trying to get it fixed. I am posting a new article, and I hope complete service will be established soon.  Thanks and hugs to all friends.

Nobody listens to his stories any more. Work of Cuban painter Abel Quintero

It’s true that in Cuba there is no freedom of the press. In its place, press licentiousness, as prolific and thorny as the invasive marabou weed, has developed. It is a peculiar way to “report”, and, as crazy as the results are, (or perhaps because of it), it’s very consistent with the system.

The press is one of the indicators that most markedly evidences signs of change, a constant that has an influence even in societies such as ours, where secrecy rules.  Some of the readers with sharper memories will remember that, during the period of Castro I, we experienced an absolutely triumphant press: all  the milestones of the three first decades of the revolution were positive, crop and livestock production grew each year, indicators of health, education, sports and culture marked an unstoppable upward course, the harvests were huge, and so were all the line-entries that heralded an economic splendor always knocking at our doors, without ever entering our lives.

Not even the 1990’s crisis was able to destroy the vibrant spirit of a kind of completely alienated optimism.  So the press repeated each inspired and inflamed phrase of the Great Orate, and we didn’t have food, clothing, shoes or fuel… but we did have “dignity”.  We also had the celebrated battle for Elián, one of the most resonant Pyrrhic victories in Cuban history, in which substantial resources were spent while people went hungry, and a while later we had “Five Heroes”… who, some day, will “return”. Then came the open tribunals each Saturday in different municipalities throughout Cuba, squandering what we didn’t have, and the absurd Round Tables were instituted.  The press had the mission to inflate the balloons that substantiated the indestructible success and the indisputable superiority of the tropical socialist system, despite the collapse of the USSR and the abrupt disappearance of subsidies.

But it has been under the period of Castro II that licentiousness of the press has reached its climax, especially in the heat of the “opening” marked by the so-called government reforms, where the economic parameters sealed the full apogee of an original way to “report” under which things are not what they seem, but something completely different.

This explains why, for example, official figures reported a modest GDP growth at the end of 2012, and, paradoxically, at the barely ending first trimester in 2013, an expanded meeting of the Council of Ministers acknowledged hereto unspeakable evils in the Cuban economy: lack of productivity, inefficiency, defaults, lack of organization and lack of discipline, among others, that prevented the fulfillment of the plans.  Nobody bothered to explain this strange way of “growing” by being unproductive.

Indicators of the progress of the harvest and sugar production were recently published, with very poor results, and, compared with the same period last year, a decrease in foreign tourist arrivals has been reported for the month of February, 2013 (full peak of tourist season). However, the press ensures that the investment plan will continue for that “priority sector” and that an increase in revenue is expected on this line-entry of this important economic sector.

The Moa nickel plant ceased production, however, the General-President insists on “the need to work to guarantee the assured external income, including those derived from the export of nickel and sugar”, although the country is forced to import sugar just to meet domestic demand. In his words, “we are moving at a great pace despite the obstacles”. With such news, it seems clear where progress is moving, but there is no doubt that this informative coven lurching between chaos and optimism is the mirror image of the national condition.

In short, the press turns out to be more licentious the more representative of the Castro II “transparency” it is. But there is nothing to wonder at, according to the dictionary of the Spanish language, some synonyms of the word “licentiousness” are: impudence, obscenity, indecency, dishonesty, shamelessness, among others. I guess that, once the terms are known, nobody will deny that licentiousness of the press in Cuba is enjoying perfect health.

8 April 2013

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