Pedazos de la Isla

"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation

Category Archives: Yoani Sanchez

Solidarity with #AntonioRodiles. ‘Estado de Sats’ will go on.

Despite the fact that Antonio Rodiles is still behind bars in a Cuban prison, the show he help create- “Estado de Sats”- will go on, thanks to his friends and brothers in struggle- independent journalists, bloggers, activists, etc. In the most recent episode of the program, launched this past 16th of November, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (photographer and blogger) moderates the show, highlighting the presence of an empty chair which was “symbolically placed in his (Rodiles) memory and also a promise that, sooner or later, he will be with us again to continue this project“.

Rodiles remains detained in the Acosta Police Unit of Havana since this past 8th of November when he set off there to peacefully protest the arrest of various fellow dissidents. The wave of arrests started with the detention of independent blogger and lawyer Yaremis Flores. Afterward, other detainees included Yoani Sanchez, Laritza Diversent, Angel Santiesteban, Claudio Fuentes, Jose Diaz Silva, Veizant Boloy and others. All were released (some with pending accusations), except for Rodiles. His girlfriend, Ailer Gonzalez Mena, has been able to see him briefly and under the constant presence of State Security agents. She has described that he is physically bruised- due to various beatings- but that his spirit remains firm and convinced that he is doing what is right to defend freedom of expression.

Yoani Sanchez managed to publish an article on Huffington Post about Antonio Rodiles’ situation. The article was translated into English by Mary Jo Porter. Read it here.

Use the following hashtags on Twitter to demand the release of Antonio Rodiles: #AntonioRodiles, #Rodiles, #FreeRodiles, #LibertadRodiles.

Cubans Throughout the Island Pay Tribute to Victims of the “13th of March” Tugboat Massacre

Some of the victims of the Tugboat Massacre

18 years ago, forces of the Cuban regime assassinated 41 people who were trying to flee the country in search of freedom in the United States aboard an old tugboat (“13th of March”).  The crime occurred on July 13th, 1994, when a couple of other state vessels persecuted the tugboat (which had 69 people on board), blocked its path, and used a cannon to fire water at the Cubans.  41 of those people died, drowned or from the impact, and among them were 11 minors.

In 2012, during the anniversary of this massacre, the repression of the regime (the same one which committed the crime) was not able to impede Cubans throughout the island from honoring the victims.

On the eve of the anniversary, about 18 activists in Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey, met at the home of dissident Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes to carry out a candlelight vigil followed by a pots and pan protest in memory of the vicitms.  On the following day, July 13th, this same group had plans to march out of the home up to a local river, where they would deposit flowers in honor of those assassinated.  However, government mobs surrounded the home, shouted violent slogans, kicked down the door, and impeded the dissidents from stepping out.  Regardless, on the morning of Saturday July 14th, the dissidents once again tried to step out of the house, and this time they did, although they were arrested by forces of the political police.

Another successful pots and pan protest took place on July 12th in the city of Placetas, in Santa Clara, where dissidents like Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Marta Díaz Rondon and Leticia Ramos Herrería participated.  They were carrying out a meeting there, debating a new opposition campaign dubbed “Towards the National Strike”.

July 13th began with the news that 6 activists from the Central Opposition Coalition in Santa Clara also carried out a peaceful march to a local river to also deposit flowers, but all of these members were violently arrested.  Among them was Idania Yánez Contreras, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa, Alcides Rivera and Damaris Moya Portieles. However, Alcides Rivera managed to throw the flowers into the river right before being arrested.  In the case of Yanez Contreras, she was shoved into a police vehicle and kept in there for nearly an hour before being taken into custody in a police unit, with the engine off, the windows up and under the scorching sun.

The Free Yorubas Association of Cuba, a religious organization independent from state control, carried out a religious ceremony a couple of days before the anniversary, in which they prayed for the victims and prayed for the freedom of Cuba.

In Havana, the home of Lady in White Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo had already been completely surrounded by the political police for 5 days, keeping her family and other dissidents from going out to the street.  Fonseca explained that, although they could not make it out, she managed to hang a large sign on her porch with messages condemning the Castro regime for the tugboat massacre and honoring the victims, highlighting that there were minors among the murdered.  The activist added that other members of the group which she presides over- the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba- did manage to surpass police cordons and pay tribute to the victims publicly in the same province of Havana.

Meanwhile, also in Havana but in the neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo, Eriberto Liranza Romero said that various activists from the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy shocked the police, despite having been under threats and vigilance for 2 weeks, managing to throw flowers into a local river.  On the morning of Saturday the 14th, Liranza explained on Twitter that other activities were being carried out by other members of the same youth group.

In Banes, Holguin, a group of dissidents from the Eastern Democratic Alliance marched to a river as well, successfully throwing flowers.  These same dissidents managed to surpass a police cordon which had been set up by State Security Major Roilan Cruz, one of the main culprits of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s assassination in 2010.

Other similar activities were reported in other provinces and cities, although telephone interruptions made it difficult to confirm further details.

Meanwhile, various Cubans across the island sent out messages through Twitter, using the hashtag #Remolcador13M (#Tugboat13M).  One of these Twitter users was former political prisoners Pedro Arguelles Moran who mentioned the anniversary and emphasized that the crime was executed under “orders of the Castro tyranny“.

The Pastor and blogger Mario Felix Barroso tweeted, “The assassins are still out on the street, but God will do justice“.  Meanwhile, Yoani Sanchez recalled that she was 17 years old when the massacre occurred and mentioned that many people, including her friends, would also risk their lives at sea in search of freedom.  She explained that she did not know of the crime until “a couple of months after“, but affirmed that “ignorance does not free us of responsibility“.

Help us to not forget them“, continued another Tweet by Sanchez, “to denounce the injustice“.  The blogger also published a link to a harrowing testimony by one of the survivors.

The youngest victims

#FestivalCLIC: An Event to Shatter Censorship

The independent Cuban projects, “Estado de SATS” and the “Blogger Academy”, along with the technological Spanish organization known as “EBE” have been announcing the ‘Festival CLIC’ (or “Click Festival”), an event which has been organized and convoked by independent journalists, bloggers and artists (in sum, citizens from Cuban civil society) where they will talk and debate about new technologies like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs.  The event will kick off on Thursday, June 21st at 9 AM and will end on Saturday the 23rd.  It is being held in Miramar, 1st Street #4606, 46th and 60th Block on Playa, in the city of Havana.

One of the main promoters of the informational event has been blogger Yoani Sanchez who has been using her Twitter account (@yoanisanchez) to share details about the program schedule which has been organized for the festival, which will include sessions to the likes of “Notes for a Future Cuba with Rights for the Cuban Internet User”, “Digital Publications in Today’s Cuba”, “Music and Audio-Visual Production in the Web 2.0 Era”, and a workshop to teach students how to write on the web through blogs or Twitter, among many other conferences and workshops.

Sanchez has also said on numerous occasions and interviews that the Click Festival is open to all Cuban citizens, despite whether they are public dissidents and/or human rights activists or even the very own state bloggers and journalists.

Meanwhile, the Festival has launched its own Twitter account under the username @FestivalCLIC.  In one of the messages published on this account, they reiterate Yoani Sanchez’s declarations, affirming that “everyone is invited to the #FestivalCLIC…come meet the person behind the  @ symbol, the human being touching the keys”.

In addition, one could visit  their web page, where there are more details about the festival, including an announcement of a contest in which one Cuban will be awarded a 100 peso phone recharge for the most creative Twitter messages while using the hashtag #FestivalCLIC.

This is the first time an event of this style- completely independent from State control- takes place in Cuba, considering that on the island the level of internet access is one of the lowest in the world, due to the harsh censorship tactics applied by the regime.  Independent journalists and alternative bloggers often rely on friends abroad to help them publish their work on their blogs or digital journals, precisely because of this censorship.

According to the schedule of events published on the website, the festival will conclude on Saturday, at 4 PM with a concert and farewell gathering.

Join the Festival and the movement for free internet access for all Cubans! Tweet with the hashtag #FestivalCLIC. 

Translating Cuba’s Dissident Voices

Mary Jo Porter is an American who lives in Seattle.  When she wakes up each day, she works as a transportation consultant.  In the moments she is not working, she focuses her energies and talents on providing an enormous help for Cuban dissidents on the island, especially the independent bloggers, all the way from her laptop in Seattle.  Mary Jo, or “Maria” as her Cuban friends know her, is responsible for the English translation of Yoani Sanchez’s world renowned blog, “Generation Y”.  In addition to helping Yoani’s voice travel a little (or a lot) further, she also translates for Claudia Cadelo’s “Octavo Cerco”, Reinaldo Escobar’s “Desde Aqui”, and many others.

Together, with friends and volunteers, Maria has help set up Hemos Oido, a website which posts the blogs of members of the alternative Cuban blogosphere and allows anyone who wishes to volunteer to translate these bloggers into other languages- English, French and German among them.  Porter is an example of the importance and effectiveness stemming from solidarity with the Cuban cause, despite not being Cuban.  She is one of the many non-Cubans who have decided to spread word of Cuba’s reality throughout the world, not for money, not for political reasons, but instead straight from the kindness of her heart and her sympathy for the Cuban struggle for freedom.

Recently, Yoani’s entries were compiled into a book, “Havana Real”.  Below is the story of Mary Jo Porter- “Maria”- and how she became involved with Cuba, as well as her thoughts on this book, the independent Cuban blogosphere, and the island’s reality:

PDLI: You are Yoani Sanchez’s translator in English. As we all know, Yoani is Cuban.  You are an American from Seattle.  What inspired you, as a non-Cuban, to take on such a task?

Mary Jo Porter: “Inspired” is probably the wrong word, it was much more accidental than that. Briefly, the chain of events that led to my translating Yoani’s blog is this.

In late 2007, a Canadian friend, Chris DeMarco, invited me to go to Cuba to visit her daughter Jenny who was working in Havana for a Canadian non-profit.  I said “yes!” and turned to Google for information about the island (praying that Dick Cheney wasn’t getting an “alert” every time I typed “Cuba” into my browser).  I came across Yoani’s blog in English and was instantly captivated, as people are, by her writing, her point of view, her voice. When I got home from Cuba, naturally I was Cuba-obsessed – I think that country grabs the unwary – and Yoani’s blog became the main food for my new obsession.

Two months later the blog stopped being in English, but I struggled through the entries, relying on Google Translator, taking in as much as I could. Then Yoani put a short note on her blog saying she needed a new English translator. After a week or two when no English posts appeared, I said to myself, “someone’s gotta do it.” So, I’d had seven years of French, two years of Latin and five weeks of Spanish, “What’s a little Spanish?” I thought. I sent Yoani my pathetic first translations, and she sent me the password to the English site.

PDLI: So if you didn’t know Spanish, how could you translate the blog?

MJP: The short answer is I couldn’t. Which turned out to be a good thing in every way.  It led to everything that came after, including HemosOido.com, TranslatingCuba.com and the help of literally hundreds of volunteers.

If I had known Spanish I probably would have just turned my hand to translating the blog and that would have been the end of the story: Yoani’s blog in English. And of course if Yoani had known English then, she would have laughed at my first efforts (and sent the password to someone else!), another end to the story.

PDLI: But how did you manage to translate?

MJP: I knew I couldn’t do it, but I thought I could find help to get it done, so I posted a notice: “This blog is the work of volunteer translators. Please help.” Note the plural “translators.” Within a day, it was true.

People emailed me from all over the world. They edited my feeble efforts, explained Cuban slang, corrected grammar, cleared up misconceptions, and we were off and running. Early on, there was a co-translator, Susanna Groves, who actually knew some Spanish; she worked closely with me until she had to set it aside to work on the 2008 elections.  I still rely enormously on other people’s help, even though I’ve been doing it for over three years now.

PDLI: Can you tell us a bit about HemosOido.com and TranslatingCuba.com?

MJP: In addition to Generation Y there were a number of other great bloggers on Yoani’s same domain, desdecuba.com, and I wanted to translate them as well. As my Spanish improved, I added Reinaldo Escobar’s blog, “Desde Aqui,” and then others, and when people emailed offering to help, I would keep a mental note of those who “came and stayed” and kept asking them to do more and more. Some were people like Norma Whiting, who came from Cuba as a teenager and now translates Miriam Celaya’s blog, and Regina Anavy, an American who cut sugar cane in Cuba to help the Revolution but who now helps Cubans in other ways. There are way too many people to name them all, but those are examples two who “came and stayed.”

Meanwhile, Yoani and company started the Blogger Academy and we just couldn’t keep up. There were great blogs like Claudia Cadelo’s “Octavo Cerco,”  Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo’s “Post Revolution Mondays,” the blog of the Black Spring political prisoners written (or dictated) from prison, “Voices Behind the Bars,” “Crossing the Barbed Wire” by Luis Felipe Rojas, blogs from Laritza Diversent, Ivan Garcia, Regina Coyula, Angel Santiestaban, Rebeca Monzo, the list goes on and on.  And there were some of the earliest bloggers, like Dimas Castellanos and Miguel Iturria Savon, that I’d been wanting to translate for a long time.

I felt we needed to show that the exhaustion with the “revolutionary process,” with the lack of human rights, wasn’t just the weird dream of a few misguided people. And clearly we needed a way to more efficiently harvest the energies of all the people who had time to give, but not their whole lives. And we wanted the translations to reflect the differences of opinion among the bloggers, the plurality of voices. So, with the help of my friend (from the 4th grade) Karen Heffner Chun, we did a test run on Yoani’s blog that we called the “Cooperative Translation Experiment.” We couldn’t put the entries up fast enough, there were so many people wanting to help.

Karen then came up with the idea of having a separate site, and she coded and created it and that’s how HemosOido.com came into being. People working in other languages wanted in, so now we have four languages and hope to add more. TranslatingCuba.com was created so people didn’t have to page through 30+ sites, but could, if they wanted, read all the blogs in one place.

PDLI: Your translated entries are published on Yoani’s most recent book, “Havana Real.”  In the prologue, you say you traveled to Cuba and felt the “weight of the totalitarian state.”  What do you mean by that?

MJP reading from Havana Real at the University of Washington Bookstore

MJP: I should say something about my “before and after” perceptions of Cuba.  In “real life” my work and background have nothing to do with Cuba – I’m a transportation consultant – and although I’m far from apolitical, Cuba wasn’t really on my daily radar. My earliest impressions of Cuba were not all bad, though I do remember being scared to death during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I blamed that on the Russians, not Fidel. But coming of age during the Civil Rights struggles here at home and the Vietnam War, it was not hard to imagine that someone might have a better idea.

That said, I’m not stupid and 40 years later I had no illusions about a person who perpetuated himself in power for half a century. But if I thought of Fidel at all, it was as a self-aggrandizing psychopath, but an almost “well-meaning” psychopath, if you can merge those concepts in your mind. Che Guevara, interestingly, who remains a hero to so many people, I thought of as over the top nuts and self-obsessed. I felt that Fidel had at least stuck around and “done the work” while Che flitted about, a sort of jet-setting, celebrity “revolutionary.” I should mention, for those who haven’t been to Cuba, I’d been there less than 24-hours when I renamed the country The-All-Che-All-The-Time-Place; it was ridiculous.

But all it took for me to “see the light,” or in this case “the darkness,” was to arrive in Cuba and walk up the steps to our hotel. At the door were these big burly bouncers, turning away Cubans. And then of course Jenny quickly clued me in, as did Cubans I talked to. And as you know, only a small part of the horror is outrageous events, most of it is that endless grinding down and crushing of people whose entire lives are controlled by a dictator. A lifelong grinding down, where you go to your grave, still not free.

Despite what people think, Cubans didn’t really complain to me about material things, they complained about the lack of freedom. About the petty – but completely oppressive – control of the local enforcers. I only met three communists the whole time I was there. That was it. And one of the three was an American!

PDLI: Why do you think many Americans (and others) have a misconception of the Cuban reality? How does “Havana Real” shatter these perceptions? 

MJP: Let me start by saying, I like to think that if Yoani has accomplished one thing, she’s reduced by at least some small fraction the number of Che Guevara T-shirts in the world!

What Yoani does is make people see clearly. Rather than rant and rave about despots or political systems, she calmly relates the stories of everyday life.  What it’s like to live in a failed country under an all-powerful dictator. What it means for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What it means for your child in school, your grandmother in the hospital, your family separated by an ocean. The same stories I heard on the streets and in the living rooms of Cuba, but that don’t get told very much in that straight forward and powerful way beyond the island.

For people like me, born and raised with human rights and democracy embedded in our bones, and believing, with Anne Frank, that “people are good at heart,” it’s just a lot to grasp that someone who says they want what we want… “liberty and justice for all”… can be truly malevolent. “Havana Real” takes our blinders off.

The Cuban regime has done an excellent job creating its own myths: vilifying Batista and the U.S. role in Cuba, and regaling us with their successes in health care and education. Of course they never mention that although everyone in Cuba can read, they’re not allowed to read anything but the All-Che-All-The-Time crap approved by the regime; everything else is censored.

The American communist I met in Cuba went on about statistics for child mortality (low) and life spans (long). But individual lives are not statistics, human emotions are not statistics, human rights are violated in the flesh, not on pages of statistics. Yoani and the other bloggers fill in the details about what happens to Cubans between the time they survive infancy and when they come to the end of those long lives. It’s truly “the banality of horror.”

I also think that Yoani understands, truly understands, what a free and democratic nation requires, even though she doesn’t live in one. She understands the need for tolerance of those you disagree with, for a plurality of voices. Honestly, in addition to opening my eyes about Cuba, she’s made me a much more tolerant person with regards to the political spectrum here at home. Thinking of people I strongly disagree with, I look at them now and I’m thankful that I live in a country where they and I can come together under one government, free to express ourselves, free to fight for our beliefs, in a framework of laws and rights that protect minority viewpoints.

PDLI: In your own words, please explain the Cuban blogosphere.  What would you say these bloggers represent to Cuba, and what do they represent to you? Would you say that this phenomenon has been successful?

MJP: Well talking about the independent Cuban blogosphere, I like to think they, and all the others who are resisting the regime in so many ways, represent the seeds of a free and democratic society.

For me, the most powerful message I’ve gotten from all the Cubans on the island who resist, is that Cubans living on the island are completely capable of recreating their own country. Rebuilding their own country. I have tremendous confidence in the future of Cuba – and fear sometimes, of course, because it won’t be easy – but mostly tremendous confidence.

Are the bloggers “successful”?  I guess I define success as the fact that they wake up every morning and keep going. I think that’s success. It’s a cliché, perhaps, but to me yes, they represent the success of the human spirit.

PDLI: You’ve been doing this for over three years.  Have you had about enough?  Or do you think you’ll keep on doing it?

MJP: What I have the hardest time convincing people of is that, honestly, I don’t do what I do for Cuba, or I do it for Cuba only in the vaguest possible sense. “Cuba” does not get me up in the morning.

What gets me up in the morning is friendship, my friendship, and even love, for individual bloggers. Even though I’ve never met a single one of them, even though I can’t have extended contact with most of them, primarily because they have hardly any Internet access, I feel extraordinarily close them, even those who barely “know” me, people with whom I might have exchanged only a few emails.

Through their words, they lay themselves open, let all of us into their lives. It’s impossible not to want to do some small thing to help them, one-on-one, as individuals.  They work so hard, take so many risks, pay such a high price, and at the same time gift the world with their incredible words and pictures, with their strength, courage, and sheer endurance.

I started doing this because Yoani is a young woman, a woman my daughter’s age, who needs help, the help of someone who speaks English. I can’t do anything tangible to make her life better. But I can do this intangible thing, I can help her voice resonate a little further. And I believe there’s great power in that.

I can be a part of letting all bloggers, all the resisters, know: someone is listening, someone is watching, someone knows what is happening to you.  Whether alone in front of their computers, or crammed into some cell, they have not been entirely abandoned.  The world IS watching.  And it is watching the people who threaten and hurt them.

The bloggers represent the ability of the individual to say “No”. The almost unimaginable guts of some individuals to stand up and say “No, not me, I refuse to participate.” We all like to think that in their place we would be them. But most of us know it’s pretty unlikely.

Most of all, of course, what I hope they represent is the nascent free society, the seeds of democracy, human rights and freedom for that island.

But for me, what they most represent is my friends.

Names and Faces of those who Persecute and Oppress

Once again, Luis Felipe Rojas has published photos of his persecutors.  The blogger, independent journalist, and pro-democratic activist regularly publishes reports, as well as photos and videos, of officials who function under orders from the Cuban regime to oppress the people, using violence and intimidation methods to try and impede Cuban dissidents from peacefully taking to the streets or even from traveling to other cities to try and access the internet or meet with other dissidents.

Here are their names and their faces:

The “persecutors” from left to right and from top to bottom:  Lieutenant Saul Vega, Maikel (“J” from the Social Workers of San German).  Saul with Maikel Rodriguez Alfajarrin (Housing Confrontation Brigade), Saul sitting and ex G2 official, Luis Perez Perez standing; Amaury, a young official and student of- security?  Another operational official, and the last one- a neighbor whose last name is Grana.

In addition to these photos, I highly recommend reading the text which accompanies it, “The Persecutors (Without Other Stories)“, published on his excellent blog “Crossing the Barbed Wire”.

Meanwhile, blogger Yoani Sanchez has decided to also expose photos of the officials which follow her throughout Havana.  Various of these photos will be exhibited in Spain during a photo festival known as  PhotoEspaña.

No matter where they hide, those who repress an entire country can never escape the lens of truth.

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