Current events in Cuba as told by R. Ira Harris, author of Island of the White Rose, a novel published by Bridge Works Publishing Co. To buy a copy, visit http://www.islandofthewhiterose.com by clicking on the link below:
On Sunday of this week, we learned of the tragic consequences to the congregation of the Sikh temple near Milwaukee that was caused by a member of a white supremacist organization. In 1998, a Sacramento area Sikh temple sent me $101 to donate to Congregation B'nai Israel when it was fire bombed. My friend at the Sikh temple knew I was a member of that Sacramento congregation and that I would transmit the gift to B'nai Israel. Now another congregation needs funds. Please go this link to demonstrate that you deplore the act of the skinhead who brought such senseless suffering to people who wanted nothing more than to worship God freely:
The brief answer is absolutely nothing, except somewhere
in the twisted neurons of my brain, and there, if you look closely, a slender
thread connects the three. In my quest for news of Raul Castro and his
just-ended trip to Vietnam, China and Russia (with new cases of cholera in Cuba
an everyday occurrence, he could not have picked a safer time to absent himself
from island of the palms) I came across a story that appeared in the Monday
edition of the Miami Herald, under
the headline “Palestinian president urged Raúl
Castro to free Alan Gross” (http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/16/2898301/palestinian-president-urged-raul.html#storylink=cpy)
Why on earth would Mahmoud Abbas involve himself in the fate of a
Jewish subcontractor who works for the US Department of State and who is
rotting in a Cuban jail? In previous posts, I have written about Gross’s
circumstances, but never considered that the Palestinian Authority might want
to free him. The explanation
provided by the Miami Herald is that the Palestinian request came from an
attempt to accommodate a U.S. Congressman holding the purse strings on a $147
million grant to the Palestinian Authority. This odd development led me to a
search for the origin of the phrase, “politics make strange bedfellows.”
Certainly, stranger bedfellows never existed.
According to Wikipedia,
the phrase was coined by Charles Dudley Warner, a 19th century
American essayist, a resident of San Francisco.As a resident of northern California, my ears perk up, whenever I come
across a literary tidbit that is associated with these parts of the world.
Warner was so popular in San Francisco that three
different streets were named after him—Charles, Dudley, and Warner Streets.
Another of his phrases, “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does
anything about it” has been misattributed to Mark Twain. Without the news of Abbas’s
attempt (Raúl will not budge on his demand that five Cubans held in the United
States be released), I would still be thinking that Mark Twain was responsible
for the observation of the ironic human preoccupation with the weather.
A theme of The Death of the White Rose deals with the
inevitable failure of a revolution to maintain the loyalty of its supporters
when the change it promises does not materialize No matter how zealous the
advocate, when the promises of a revolution are not kept, disillusion sets in.
I was struck by the description of Yoani Sanchez, the
independent blogger, of the disillusion of her mother in 1989 when the most
highly decorated general of the Cuban Army, Arnaldo Ochoa, was convicted and
shot for drug trafficking. The general enjoyed widespread popularity and
because of that, threatened to eclipse Fidel. Other heroes of the revolution
had suffered a similar fate decades before—Frank País and Camillo Cienfuegos,
just to mention two. The trumped up charges against Ochoa, who was regarded as
the hero of the Cuban army’s campaign in Africa, strained the Castros’
credibility to the breaking point, and caused many ardent supporters to abandon
any hope that the promises of the revolution would ever be kept.
Here, taken from www.translatingcuba.com, is the story of
Yoani’s mother’s reaction to the execution of this popular figure:
THE DAY MY MOTHER LOST FAITH IN FIDEL AND THE REVOLUTION
by Yoani Sanchez
My mother, devoted to Fidel, sat in front of the
television. A few days later her two daughters understood that a transcendental
and irreversible change had come over that compulsive thirty-something. A
former militant in the Young Communist Union, she had suffered a degree of
ideological disillusionment in the late eighties, but the trial of General
Arnaldo Ochoa was too much for her revolutionary illusions.
I remember seeing her sitting in that easy chair in
front of the television thinking that her “Commander” was more than a father –
much more than the nation itself – and observing, from my naïve adolescent
perspective, her transformation. Her anger, her sadness, while the farce of the
judicial process continued. Later I heard from my school friends that a similar
metamorphoses occurred in many of their homes. “What have we come to,” seemed
to spread among a good part of Fidel’s faithful followers.
Why, 23 years after that “reality show” televised
throughout the country, is what is called “Case No. 1 of 1989” still considered
a point of rupture? How did this moment become one of the dates marking the
decline of the Cuban Revolution?
I do not think it was solely because of popular sympathy
for the haughty and handsome man who was in the dock. Nor for the false note of
the generals – chubby cheeked from the good life – blaming one of their
colleagues for enjoying a luxury here, an extravagance there. Nor can it be
said that it was just the evident contrast between the soldier who had led
battles in Africa, and the Commander in Chief who played at war from afar, from
the comfort of his office.
I think it all came together for many Cubans, in that
moment, that the train of the political process had gone off the rails. But
undoubtedly added to this was the desire to find a good excuse for a break, a
sufficiently strong pretext to show the door to an ideology that had defrauded
so many. We children saw this metamorphosis in our parents… there was no way we
could emerge unscathed in the presence of such a mutation.
For four weeks, the small screens in every Cuban
household were tuned to these courtroom images, where the great majority of
those present wore olive green uniforms. We heard the witnesses testify, the
accused shift from a tone of alarm to the stuttering of terror as many of them
declared that the highest levels of the Cuban government were not aware of the
Raúl Castro talked about how he had cried in front of
his bathroom mirror, thinking about Ochoa’s children, but he still approved his
execution, and that of three other defendants.
And all this happened before our eyes in the same year
in which the Berlin Wall would fall and many Eastern European regimes would
crumble like illusory castles in the sand. It wasn’t possible to separate what
was happening outside our borders from that Military Tribunal that indicted
Arnaldo Ochoa for “high treason against the country and the Revolution.”
Difficult to separate the crisis of faith that the Cuban process was passing
through at the moment of this public lesson broadcast to millions of TV
The authorities – intending to teach us a lesson –
wanted to show that they were still capable of striking a blow against any
ideas of a tropical Perestroika that might be lurking on the island. A
self-inflicted wound in their own ranks was a very clear way of warning that
there would be no mercy for those who crossed a certain line. Parallel to the
official version of the trial ran a thousand and one popular rumors about the
most decorated General in Cuba overshadowing Fidel Castro.
Many analysts argued that what was a really playing out
was a rivalry for power. It was not surprising, therefore, that so much of the
evidence presented in the trial ultimately did not convince the audience.
“There’s something more going on here,” said the older people… “there’s
something fishy,” they repeated, with the wisdom of those who had seen many
others fall, be ousted.
At dawn on July 13, 1989 Arnaldo Ochoa, Antonio de la
Guardia, Amado Padrón and Jorge Martinez were shot. My mother had turned off
the television just as the sentence was announced. I never saw her look at the
screen with rapture again; nor meekly consent when the figure of Fidel Castro
reading various press accounts about the outbreak of cholera in Granma province
in eastern Cuba, it is difficult to assess if this is a minor problem or an
epidemic. Officially, three people have died. Other reports state that the death toll
has reached 85 with 1000 ill. With
investigative journalism virtually nonexistent in Cuba, it is a challenge to separate
fact from fiction.
To get a better idea of what has occurred, I looked back
over the recent postings of Translating
Cuba, to see if anyone in the Cuban blogosphere had commented upon the outbreak. I
discovered the post of Yoani Sanchez that she had made public on July 3rd in Translating
Cuba. The full text is set forth below.I found her reporting that the government of Cuba considered the reports
of the epidemic to be a hoax, fomented “by the imperialists,” was not too surprising.
After all, isn’t “the Empire” responsible for every problem Cuba has faced?
BAD NEWS by Yoani Sanchez
There are many jokes in Cuba alluding to the
stereotypical information provided by the official press. Jokes about the
tendency to narrate only the positive that happens in the national territory
and to show the rest of the world through a succession of tragedies and
negativity. One of the best known of these jokes is repeated when the prime
time news begins and some families hang an empty bag under the television. “At
least it can be filled up this way from the tons of meat, fruit and foods that
show up only in the news reports,” say the cheeky housewives burdened by the
shortages. Beside the sarcasm, there are linguists who have noted the use of
verbs such as “grow, sow, build, develop” in the headlines referring to our own
country, while they prefer to use words such as “die, bomb, prosecute, punish
and destroy” for articles about the rest of the world.
Despite the fact that in recent years they’ve tried to
offer a journalism closer to reality, triumphalism continues to set the
standard for what appears in the mass media. A recent example is the outbreak
of cholera that appeared in early June in the eastern provinces. The first
evidence that something was happening was a text from an independent
journalist. On the official digital sites this news was branded “another hoax
from the imperialists.” Only to have to recognize weeks later that there is, indeed,
an outbreak of vibrio cholerae in the City of Manzanillo. As people disbelieve
so much of what the newspapers say, they even read this note in Granma with
suspicion. To the figures of 3 dead and 53 infected, popular rumor started to
increase the numbers. And all this speculation is because we have learned to
read the news upside down and between the lines, and to distrust almost
everything said on TV.
The Death of the White
Rose took a giant leap toward publication today with the receipt of a
publishing contract from Bridge Works Publishers of Bridgehampton, NY. Founded
by the publisher of the Wall Street
Journal, Bridge Works is a boutique company focused on novels. Barbara
Phillips, their editorial director, and former features editor of the WSJ, will guide me through a restructuring of the
middle and concluding chapters of the novel, helping to make The Death of the
White Rose reach its full potential.
I think the process will be much
like making sausage—ugly to watch, but delicious to eat when done!I expect to have it completeby December.
Many thanks to my literary agent, Waterside Literary Agency’s Jill Kramer, for making this opportunity a reality.
A measure of the economic
deterioration that has taken place in Cuba is the recent outbreak of cholera.
It has been more than 100 years since cholera last was seen on the island of
the palms. According to an account published in the Jamaica Observer today, at
least fifteen people have died as a result of the disease.
Official Cuban government
spokesmen at first denied the existence of the disease, then admitted to three
deaths and fifty people having been stricken in Granma province. Cholera is a bacterial
infection that is usually transmitted through fecal contamination of food or
drinking water. There are more than 800,000 people living in Granmaprovince located in southeastern Cuba.
Meanwhile, Raul Castro is
safely on the other side of the world today. He is in Vietnam paying tribute to the graveof Ho Chi Minh.
For my readers in the United States, I hope that everyone had a pleasant 4th of July. It was always a very special holiday in my household, when I was a child. My parents were married on that date, and my oldest sister was born a year later to the date. No matter what we ate at the inevitable barbecue on the 4th, it included watermelons carved to resemble whales and blueberry buckle, a wonderful crumb cake, infused with blueberries. Yum. Alas, my waistline no longer allows for such luxuries.
I have taken a three month leave-of-absence from posting, during which time I have completely rewritten the novel. At the suggestion of an acquisition editor at a publishing firm, I restructured the narrative of the first half of the book. It is much improved. I am certain that before I am done, it will be torn apart again and put back together. Stay tuned.
Cuba remains a hot topic in American news, due in no small part to the possibility of Rubio being nominated for Vice-President of the U.S. on the Republican ticket. Domestically, Cuba has changed little since April. Below is a contribution from www.translatingcuba.com that was posted on July 5th. I think it gives a good perspective on the past 53 years and highlights how the blockade is being used by the Castros as the excuse why the country continues to be a model of economic backwardness.
What did the triumph of the Cuban revolution accomplish? A lot: it changed what should not have been changed, destroyed all of the island’s prosperity. It focused on the benefits for the government and forgot the people; it deceived, lied and used many followers, deluded at first by promises of a false freedom and independence for Cuba.
What did they do? They made us dependent on the Socialist camp and didn’t care about the future in their eagerness to demonstrate that they can come out ahead without help from its neighbor to the North; this governmental pride oppresses us more each day.
What do they do? Nothing: to invent a blocade that always existed, mocking this measure by having the help of the Soviet Union, and today said embargo is brought out in order to explain and justify the scarcity of all that was promised.
What have they demonstrated? The lack of preparation and the ambition for power; that we are being led by incompetents or by people who love regression.
The inexplicable! An island surrounded by ocean yet there is scarcity of salt, there is scarcity of fish; 53 years of government and we have nothing.
The explicable! We are governed by an ambitious dictatorship of destructive power, with ideological methods based on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, that force one to adhere to its beliefs or to be punished by death or to be exiled forever. They are people who do not know how to find equilibrium because they want to demonstrate their absolute perfection — and that doesn’t exist, not even nature is perfect!
It’s late at
night and I am sitting at my desk after a busy day. It began in a courtroom in
the city of Vallejo, half-way between Sacramento and San Francisco. I represent
clients who have brought a civil suit against men who my clients believe have
breached an agreement. The defendants are represented by counsel. The court is
somber; rules are in place to govern the proceedings. The doors are unlocked
and unguarded and open to anyone who cares to watch or listen to the
questioning and responses. Documents are stamped and a court stenographer is
there to record every word that is spoken.
conclusion of the morning session, I left the courthouse and walked across the
street toward my car. I was stopped at the corner by a poorly-dressed woman in
her late fifties or early sixties. She was with her forty-something son. She
saw me clothed in a suit, carrying a box of documents and asked if I was a
lawyer. When I affirmed that I was, she shoved a piece of paper into my hand.
“We’re confused and don’t know what to do.” I examined the paper. It was a
minute order releasing her son after an arraignment. The criminal charge was
identified numerically. The numbers meant nothing to me other than it was a
penal code violation. I called my office and asked my assistant to check the
statute and read me the law. In seconds, I learned that her son was charged
with felony child endangerment. I asked the woman what she was confused about.
She replied that her son was told he earns too much for a public defender and
that he didn’t understand the charges. She offered to hire me on the spot. I
explained that my practice is limited to civil law, and her son needs a
criminal defense attorney. Attached to the minutes she had handed me was a slip
of paper with the county bar’s lawyer referral service. I told her to call the
number listed and they would refer her son to a criminal defense firm.
Why is this of
concern? Tonight, I browsed through the postings on Translating Cuba to see
what has been going on in Havana in the wake of the Pope’s visit. Among the
comments was the following posting. Reading it made me appreciate the
constitutional due process that we enjoy in the U.S. My own clients’ rights to
seek justice are well defined and not subject to the caprice of the executive
branch of government. The poor woman who I met outside worried about her son,
had the opportunity to make sure that her son’s rights were protected. While he
had been charged with a crime, he had been released on bail after a public
hearing during which charges had been read, although not well understood by the
defendant, and he had access to an attorney’s services through the local bar
south of Florida, none of the above is possible. Danilo Maldonado, the author
of the posting below, reports of his experience with police and jail as a
result of doing absolutely nothing other than having expressed his views about
the government. He was jailed without charges pending. No one offered him a
lawyer or the chance to bring a writ of habeas
corpus. Our system of government has many faults, some quite grievous and
which cry out for revision. However imperfect, our democracy and others like it
provide safety nets that others only dream of having. We are approaching the
Jewish holy days of Passover, a time when the story of the exodus from Egypt by
the Israelites is re-told each year. The Israelites were transformed from
slaves to a free people—a rebirth of a people. It is an observance that
underscores the importance of human freedom. The Easter holy day is another
story of rebirth that is celebrated by Christians everywhere. Modern Pharaohs
such as the Castro brothers have had their day. I hope that the lessons of
Passover and Easter will someday soon manifest themselves in the story of
rebirth for troubled Cuba. The story you will read below illustrates that it
has a long way to go before the day of freedom arrives on that island.
They Kidnapped Me Again/El Sexto
by Danilo Maldonado Machado
In these days of waiting for the Pope, everything around me is
tense. I start to leave my phone at home. They followed me from before the
presentation of Voices Magazine Number 14. But it is only persecution; at least
they want you to think [that].
I thought it wouldn’t be for some graffiti artist.
Occasionally I can slip out among my friends and shake off the
Although it is
a super uncomfortable situation and full of stress, it’s already so common for
me to be followed by them I’m not afraid and can shout at them, things like
dogs, snitches, pawns, and so on.
I got used to
it and, as my ex says, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It was Sunday,
March 26, my sister Indira’s birthday, and seeing State Security was barely 20
yards from my door, I didn’t want to leave the house. I took it as a threat not
to leave. But they slept outside all night and that worried me a lot and I felt
The next day,
March 27 at 1:00 pm I saw them at the corner of my house with cardboard in the
windows of the car, so that the sun doesn’t bother them, I think. It was the
same red car as the day before. I had to go out to make a phone call, I did, in
shorts, a shirt and sandals, heading away from them. I’d barely walked 15 yards
when I could sense them starting up the car around the corner.
They came up
behind me, grabbed me by force and shoved me inside the car between two guys
dressed in civilian clothes. Car rules: Hands between the feet and eyes
forward! They snatched the phone out of my hands.
DO NOT TURN IT
OFF! they said.
The car with
three officers took me to Vedado, 26th and 17th, where they stopped, made calls
on their cell phones, and in 5 minutes a Suzuki motorcycle and the usual
“persecution car” showed up (a green Lada make with private license plates):
with that Camilo. On the way he told me, “Today you’re playing Capablanca [the
grandmaster] at chess.” Driving down Boyeros Avenue you could see all the
“makeup” they’d applied, for obvious reasons.
I thought why
are they doing this to me if they don’t want to damage the Pope, and I’m not
some trash you can sweep under the carpet. When we got to the station at
Santiago de las Vegas Camilo got out and when he returned they took me in
through the back. As they were leaving me there a policeman told Camilo he was
needed for another arrest. Camilo disappeared.
transferred me to the cells I saw a man dressed in black, a gentleman I would
come to know later, it was Julio, the husband of Sara Marta, Lady in White,
opponents from Rio Verde. As we were not in the same cell we were talking from
a distance. He told me that he had seen me on the Estado de Sats program, and
that he’d been there since Friday with eating or drinking water (a hunger
strike). I was just starting my time and I felt bad already, but being locked
up there for no reason gave me strength. Julio told me his wife had also been
kidnapped and he thought they had taken her to Cotorro incommunicado.
The next day
opponents became to arrive from the Santiago de las Vegas police station, all
on hunger strike: 14 in total, including 3 women whom I only sensed and heard
their voices. Those of us there had opinions in common. The chorus of
“Freedom!” became so strong we were encouraged to also shout “Down with the
Dictatorship,” “Down with Raul,” “Long Live Human Rights”…
asked up please, if we wanted we could shout, but not to go near the bars. For
us they were invisible. I met Bartolo, El Deje, all very affable and I felt
find, because we talked as if we’d known each other all our lives.
me as a criminal: many photos of my body and finger prints and something odd:
the shoe size.
The next day I
felt dizzy. I asked Julio how he felt and he said fine. I was taken to the
doctor who tested my sugar, which was low as was my blood pressure. The doctors
were worried, telling me, “You don’t have the physical strength to do this.
Eat!” Nor am I a murderer, but I am here because you want me to be, I answered.
On returning from the exam I gave to alcohol swab to Julio, he shook my hand
but I felt he was sick.
In the evening
I left the dungeon. There were about 20 patrol cars outside the station.
Coincidentally Julio and I were put in the same car and they transported us.
The order was to leave us a few blocks from our respective houses. He got out
at Boyeros, near Mazorra, and I at Arroyo Arenas.
They gave me my
phone and there were no texts or missed calls. When it rang it was the wife of
Ismael de Diego, I told her I was already out. She told me that when she called
my phone, an officer answered.
This is my
humble testimony. I don’t people who had it a lot worse. The government should
avoid and fear these hunger strikes in chains… Lest they kill more innocents
and fall into the muck once and for all. I hope the world learns of all the
kidnappings and sees behind the false image this tyranny wants to give to the
Pope and the foreign press.