Acknowledgment (Part I)


Image: Abstract, by Luis Trápaga

Dear Mr. Pablo Pacheco,

My name is Sebastian Lebre. I work as a presenter on Dutch television and thanks to my job I have had the luck to see a large part of the world. In this way I have come into contact with many different cultures, regions, and different forms of spirituality; with poverty and absurd wealth. I have also spoken to people who are from countries ruled by dictators. All of these things that I have experienced have been translated continually into themes for my show. There you can experience many of the good and bad things that our world has to offer. I do not pretend to know how such things in life feel, but of course these experiences have allowed me to better understand and appreciate the fact that I live in a free country, which for me constitutes a grand fortune and something that I should think about every once in a while.

You wrote this text in November 2003: “The enemies of freedom can have strength but not reason; can have laws but not justice; can have means of communication but not the truth; can manipulate the thoughts of a man but not his conscience; can jail his body but not his soul, the sign of a hero.”

To me it’s difficult to understand the immense strength that is needed to be consistent with these words in a system that does everything to shatter them. I can only express my deepest respect for that. I also think what you say is true: “They can destroy a man’s body, but never his will.” But I’m sure it’s much easier said than done.

I have spoken to numerous people about you and we all doubt that we’d have the same willpower that you have in a similar situation. In these conversations, we quickly drew comparisons between you and Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. They are examples of people with such a strong belief in their own convictions that they sacrificed everything in return for them. Each one of them had seen the light, so that they never again would be in darkness.

In my opinion you show exactly the same thing, and because of that I express my deepest admiration. It’s a shame I cannot do anything else for you, except to tell you that you are in my thoughts and in those of my friends. Perhaps these are only words I am blurting out, but ever since I read your story, you have become a source of inspiration for me.

I wish you a never-failing strength as well as the support, love and compassion of God and also very good health. You are in my thoughts.

Cordially,

Sebastián

A Missile in the Form of a Human Body


Image: Bird, by Botero

In the 2009 World Athletic Championships in Berlin, we witnessed a phenomenon. Many label him an extraterrestrial and others refer to him as an airplane. I prefer to call him a missile in the form of a human body. Usain Bolt, the “Jamaican knife,” left the crowd stupefied by showing his stuff in the 100-meter dash. The human missile broke his own world record, stopping the clock at 9.58 and putting the predictions of scientists into the ground, as my friend Iván says. And unbelievably, the missile Bolt proved again that the human limit is unpredictable when he shattered the record, two days later, in the 800-meter dash, where he was clocked at l9.l9. Really, this is something of dreams, and he’s only 23 years old. What a nightmare for his rivals. I expect that Bolt will be the one to break his own record, because right now there is no one of his stature to rival him. I think that after Berlin 2009, the missile Bolt will aspire to beat his own record.

In the Beijing Olympics, Jamaica was placed among the first countries to win medals, in great part because of the three gold medals won by the missile Bolt. Now in Berlin, history repeats itself. This small Caribbean island is proud of its athlete with such incomparable charisma. As for the fans, we pray that this human missile does not hurt himself, and that he continues to bring glory to the world of sports.

Pablo Pacheco
Independent Journalist, Group of the 75
Provincial Prison of Canaleta, Ciego de Avila

About Juanes’ Concert

Like an event without the relevance it truly deserves, the Cuban cultural authorities have announced a possible concert by the Colombian singer Juanes. A friend of mine who I depend on when I need some efficient information explained to me that as a result of the news, a wave of criticism has started up from a sector intolerant of anything that benefits Cuba, or more exactly, the Cuban government. Obviously they have this right, and I am not able to stop them, but it is important to understand that when Juanes delights us with his music he doesn’t do it to please Obama, Uribe, Chávez, or Raúl Castro.

He sings for all the people and is very clear about this in his declarations: “I sing for peace”. Identifying himself with us Cubans is necessary. If we want to open up to the world and have the world open up to us we have to learn to tolerate, but more importantly we have to learn to love without barriers. By saying this I am not giving approval to the government of Havana. They have imprisoned me for writing what I think, and I believe that counts for something.

Certain questions begin taking shape: How many talented singers have stopped performing on the Cuban stage in the last 50 years? Or, how many spaces of freedom have been lost?

I am sure that in Miami there is a tiny community that opposes Juan Esteban Aristizabal’s – Juanes’ – performance in Havana. I, on the other hand, long for the live voices of Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan, Albita Rodríguez, Maggy Carles and other great Cuban singers.

Imagine that here for those of us who have remained in Cuba, even in captivity, we are denied the right to simply see the acting of Andy Garcia. I hope that my doubts are dispelled about possible manipulation by the Ministry of Culture of Juanes, and I hope that Miguel Bose does not give up. In that same light, I ask that Olga Tañon overcome her fear, and I know that there is no justifiable conspiracy against her. She is not only an idol in Miami or in Havana- she is a universal idol. And we Cubans deserve to see such artists perform among us.

Juanes, 5-time Grammy award winner in 2008 for his CD “La Vida es un Ratico” (“Life is Just a Little While”), assured the international press that he will sing for peace. He deserves respect and hopefully other greats of the musical world will join him for this project.

We Cubans are eager to see the most brilliant and talented artists perform.

Pablo Pacheco
Independent Journalist, Group of the 75
Provincial Prison of Canaleta, Ciego de Avila

Denunciation from Mother of Political Prisoner


Image: Abstract, Luis Trápaga

I am the mother of Paneque, prisoner of conscience in the prison of Bayamo, Las Mangas. He finds himself at this moment, as of yesterday, admitted to the hospital of the prison due to a cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall bladder). He is sick and suffering from a bad intestinal absorption from which he has not recuperated and weighs 52 ½ kilos. I want to share this news so it can be known throughout the world that he is in an unimaginable condition in prison. They are attending to him; it is not that they are not attending him, but I visited him on the 12th and while he is recuperated compared to how he was before, he is nothing more than skin and bones. So then, you can imagine, I want the world to know about his case, which has been somewhat known, but so the word can keep spreading. When he does not just have a cold, he has pneumonia and so on. That’s all for the moment.

Conditions of Captivity


We all regret something at least once in our lives, and if you’re in jail, believe me, this occurs more often than when you are free. In my case, I really regret not attending at least once, in these 6 years and 5 months, one of the morning events that take place every week in the prisons where I have been. My childish bias is to consider these events as political acts when in reality they are just insults to the intelligence of even the most mediocre of men.

Today, while I took a bath to cool off from this exhausting summer heat, I heard the common prisoner Javier Pérez Piñeiro exclaim: “It’s true that this director of Canaleta is fantastic. Can you all believe that Lt. Colonel Reineiro Díaz Betancourt said in one of these morning events that he can’t eat the food that they give us”? I pondered this, and I’m sure that never, in his whole life, has this official of vast experience in the Ministry of the Interior in the branch of jails and prisons spoken such an absolute truth.

About two or three weeks ago, here in Canaleta they offered black beans on the menu, a preferred dish amongst the every-day Cuban. Imagine for the prisoners that they have no other option than what is served to them by the guards. Today, when I was about to ingest my black beans, somebody shouted: “People, these beans have worms”! My stomach turned and my mind froze for a few seconds. Upon reacting, I called the official of the interior and he called the re-educator of my barracks. Immediately, an officer appeared with a bracelet that identified him as an assistant to the head official. I showed my ration of beans to him and to the guard of my hall, and I am convinced that both where shocked upon seeing the dead little worms on the surface of the bean broth dancing a Reggaeton like Dali Yam. Both these men promised me that the re-educator would take the matter in hand.

I was not going to settle with that. I needed to see Reineiro Díaz Betancourt. It couldn’t be. The barracks chief asked to see me close to 8 at night. The recount had already passed. Either because of foolishness or just simple tiredness, I had already thrown away the disgusting beans, which I also regret. Joel Prado, the re-educator, informed me that the problem was solved. He also let me know that Reineiro Díaz Betancourt knew about the case, but I was guilty of having thrown away the convincing evidence. I only remember telling him: “Don’t worry about it. It won’t happen again, I guarantee it.”

That day I did not eat lunch. I couldn’t. For dinner I just ate a little piece of chicken that they give me for my diet. I should clarify that my pathology is paradoxical: I cannot lose weight due to my kidney arthrosis. Yet I cannot gain weight either because of the operation in my right knee due to the multiple dislocations caused by not getting sun during my first 18 months of captivity in the gloomy Agüica prison, and to top it off, I also cannot ingest a series of foods because I also suffer from a chronic gastro-intestinal condition. It is crazy, but I have to keep going.

The next day the beans disappeared by magic and they started giving us chickpeas. Happiness lasts very little in the house of the poor. Today, August 12, the common prisoner Abelardo Requeo Peñeranda discovered weevils in his chickpea soup and screamed in alarm. Hortelio Vázquez Santana, Heriberto Castillo Sánchez, and Pedro Julio Ferrer Rodríguez all joined him. They all found at least one bug in their food. Pedro Julio Ferrer Rodríguez stated: “Even if I find a dead mouse I will eat this food. I am a prisoner and have no other option.” I felt sorry for him. I did not eat lunch or dinner. But in Cuban prisons no one dies of hunger, for sure.

If I did not have my visits every 30 days, I would have most likely passed through the operating room for a second time. Now I remember that during my first 35 days of captivity I lost some 25 pounds. This caused my right kidney to descend to the extent that I have not recuperated after 6 years and 5 months. Now I wait for tomorrow’s lunchtime so I can keep the evidence that I need in order to show it to a guard of higher rank than Joel Pardo, the re-educator. I will even ask to see the chief of medical services though I know perfectly well that they all cover up everything.

I also have to remain tactful, since prisoners sometimes don’t understand that they need to eat beans and chickpeas, that it’s the best they are offered all year.

To end, I place a question on the table: In a prison with more than 1,100 prisoners can’t there be one group that chooses the grains that will feed the rest of the penal population? Perhaps I will know the answer to this query tomorrow.

Pablo Pacheco
Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Avila

Footnote: The “morning events” (matutinos in Spanish) that are mentioned signify meetings in the prisons that inform the prisoners of news events, mainly of political issues. Many times they read prisoners excerpts of newspapers or articles and usually include “aggressiosn from the North”. In other words, many times they are just manipulated political information intended to add to the rhetoric against the “imperialistic enemy states”. Sometimes, though, it can just be random local or international news.

Letter from Antonio Diaz Sanchez


Image: Abstract by Luís Trápaga

Between tedious days and thinking of his family, especially his oldest daughter Jenny who traveled to the US in April, Tony spends his days of captivity in a cell of the provincial prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Ávila. Today I received a letter from Antonio Díaz Sánchez (Tony), sent clandestinely from the isolation zone of the prison.

In it he states that the visit went well. “Those present included my wife, my youngest daughter, my sister, and her husband.  In other words, the same people as usual. When I asked to go up to the pavilion, as is the custom for prisoners from Havana, the officer on guard left and, upon returning, stated that Reineiro told him that today was not my turn. Then I told him that he was right; the time had already passed. In reality, I wanted to appeal to the conscience of this soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Reineiro of Canaleta. Otherwise my wife would have to come back within eight days so we could be together for three hours of conjugal visit.

“I knew what the answer would be but I wanted to force the guard to answer me as did Pablo Manuel by saying ‘I am very bad’ so I could then send him to hell, and that is exactly what I did. When the officer on guard and in charge of penal control returned, he told me that Reineiro had denied my request, that the visit would have to be on the 20th of the following month. I told him in a friendly tone: ‘That is not a problem. He is chief and even in the dumpster on 100th street there is a chief, and the chief is chief even if it’s in a dumpster.’

“This has become my slogan in the face of the intimidation that is supposed to coerce me. I must clarify that the guard doesn’t do any of this on his own initiative, denying me the cigars brought by Julita, the right to religious meetings, etc. etc.  This is all thought up by the G-2, or perhaps they gave him a blank check that permits him to act as he wishes from now on.

“Early that same Wednesday I was visited in my cell by a uniformed major. This man claimed to be a security official from the prison.  He reminded me that he was the one who brought me the medicine sent by Pablito during my first days here. The conversation was interrupted by the inspection. I don’t know if he came just before the inspection to entertain me or if he really wanted to make conversation with me, but he promised to continue the dialogue, though I doubt he will return, because my wife brought a series of writings and photocopies which were collected for inspection.” I should point out that Pedro Arguelles says the photocopies were returned to Antonio Díaz Sánchez’ family.

In another part of the missive Tony comments: “I hope that you all understand my strategy. They try to distract me by tightening the screw, but I pretend like nothing is happening, and while their methods keep failing and they keep making it more difficult, I make it more difficult, too. I only ask God to grant me strength and health in order to continue resisting.” In the same way, Tony reasons in his own words: “Meanwhile the solidarity is increasing and I notice that they, with all their actions, play the role of victimizers, while every moment with my peaceful resistance, I am the victim. This has not been my intention but instead has been the result of prison procedures. For example, in these past two months I have written six letters to my family, and none arrived. Also, it would be a very good idea if people inside and outside Cuba write to me. The address is Provincial Prison Canaleta, Carretera de Sanguily, kilometer 2 ½, isolation zone, hall 1, cell n.1, Antonio Díaz Sánchez, Ciego de Ávila. I should receive these letters so the dirty tricks used in this prison could be more publicly uncovered, shedding light on the darkness where they operate.”

Tony ends his correspondence suggesting: “I also think that people could write to Reineiro Díaz Betancourt at the same address demanding that he allow me the right to religious assistance and being able to go out in the sun without shackles. Please, these things may seem insignificant, but they have a tremendous effect.

“Hugs for Felix, Alonso, Pedro and Pablito, and also my respect and love to all those people of goodwill who show solidarity with me.”

Other Reprisals against Political Prisoner in Ciego de Avila

09_07la_quimera_de_arezzo

Image: La Quimera de Arezzo

The prisoner of conscience Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez finds himself confined to an isolation cell in the provincial prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila.  Tony, who is also a member of the Group of 75 and who resides in the municipal capital of Marianao, finds himself isolated since May 30 for refusing to wear the uniform of a common prisoner and is currently confronting reprisals against him from Castro’s political police.  Some of these restrictions include denying him the right to receive family mail and visits of religious assistance, among others.

On August 12 Tony was allowed his regulated two-hour family visit, and he requested, as is the habitual practice for prisoners who live in Havana, that they also permit his three-hour matrimonial visit the same day, but the prison warden flat-out refused, alleging that he’d get his conjugal visit on August 20.  Furthermore, his family brought him some photocopies of a Spanish press article that were taken away from them at the prison entrance. The soldiers said that they would be given to Tony later, but when his family left after the visit, the press articles were returned to them, denying Tony his right to freedom of information in Canaleta prison.

Pedro Argüelles Morán
Group of the 75
Provincial prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila

An exclusive opportunity


A few weeks ago, I wrote about Juanes’ performance in the Cuban capital. Now I am convinced that the appearance of Juan Esteban Aristizabal and other accompanying musicians would constitute a fabulous and necessary artistic show in the Plaza of the Revolution, formerly known as the Jose Marti Civic Plaza. A large diversity of opinions have arisen around the so-called “Concert for Peace”, which is normal. What I do see as out of place are the images, manipulated by Cuban television, of one part of the Miami exile community smashing the Colombian singer’s CDs.

Today I am in prison for writing what my conscience dictates. I long for the respect of different opinions to be part of the future of Cuba, and I don’t doubt that my fellow brothers in the cause, the group of 75 arrested in the Black Spring of 2003, other political prisoners, those who fight day after day in the street for the democratization of Cuba, and of course in the diaspora, all feel the same. This country needs love and reconciliation and that is what we, men of good will, give night and day and will continue offering tomorrow. I have noticed that the government of the island has been intelligently quiet, trying to take advantage of the attacks from both sides. There is no better strategy for creating enemies than that of “divide and conquer,” and we cannot let ourselves fall into a trap that causes further harm to the idea of respecting different opinions.

When Juanes and other singers decided to give a concert with the purpose of harmoniously unifying the governments of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, there also surged a wave of opposition. However, the show ended up being an all-around success. It couldn’t have happened any other way, for the joining of the voices of Carlos Vives, Juanes, Juan Fernando Velasco, the Dominican Juan Luis Guerra and the Venezuelan Ricardo Montaner was something delightful, almost celestial. We Cubans do not live at the end of the world, and we deserve the performances of these artists and many others, including Cubans who today are in exile but have never stopped being part of our people. Many of them belong to the most talented and brilliant group of artists on an international level.

On the other hand, Juanes, Olga Tanon, Victor Manuel, and the others will have a unique chance to see – with their own eyes and without anyone telling them – the state of tension under which we live. They will notice the degree of militarization that exists in this society, whether it is in the streets, plazas, hotels, clubs, or even on our beautiful beaches. If these giants of the musical world do not demand liberty for the political prisoners, or do not even meet with opposition leaders – for the sake of claiming to be apolitical – only they shall know if they will be able to sleep peacefully with their consciences in a Havana hotel, surely one of 5-star rating.

The people want to see them perform and I am content with that. I am convinced that both the exile community and a significant number of Cubans located on the island would like Juanes to meet with the brave Ladies in White. I hope that is what will happen. A few days ago, Bill Richardson was in Cuba and the everyday Cuban people did not even notice. I don’t question his strategy but am surprised that at this level a North American governor of such high stature would continue the rhetoric supported by Michelle Bachelet, Cristina Fernandez, and others. It’s a sad situation, and however these politicians try to minimize it, it’s a reality. The authorities of Havana know this and are worried though they don’t show it. Let’s see what experience Juanes and his companions take away with them, but at least we Cubans will have an exclusive opportunity after so many years.

Leave the intolerance aside

Regarding the singer Juanes’ visit to the island, some compatriots, on and off the island, have stirred up a lamentable reaction of intolerance and rejection. This has even led to some acts of intransigence which, by my understanding, do not correlate with the essence and spirit of democracy. What difference is there between these stubborn attitudes and those daily systematic and institutional ones that are forced upon us by the totalitarian regime of the Castros? Is it that for you there are dictatorships of the left or of the right? Civil regimes or military ones? Well, for me none of those classifications exist: There are dictatorships, period.

Is Juanes coming to sing for the tyrant on his birthday, for the nomenklatura living under a capitalism of luxury, waste, and sinecures of all types, or is he coming to sing for the suffering Cuban people? Brothers and sisters, please analyze this intolerant posture that only serves the same Castroite regime to feed its hatreds and justify its cruel, inhuman and degrading acts against the same population for whom Juanes is coming to sing.

Compatriots, one cannot hypocritically demand morality; if one fights civilly for a new Cuba let it be for all, with all, and for the benefit of all. Let us begin by adopting praise-worthy and dignifying democratic principles and leave the intolerance to the communist regime in Havana.

Pedro Argüelles Morán, Group of the 75, Provincial Prison of Canaleta, Cuba

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.