English translations

Stalin´s Whisper

From the moment we found ourselves in the cells in which we had arrived on Tuesday, December 30th of 2014, and where several journalists coincided, we knew that putting a name to the first article we would write about our kidnapping would be difficult. We had arrived to “Vivac” – the name some of the other detainees told us this specific detention centre was called – after we had come to the Revolution Square to participate in Tania Bruguera’s performance Tatlin’s Whisper. She never arrived, and there we heard that since the previous night nobody had had news from her. The performance was scheduled for three o’clock in the afternoon. At four a small group 
–Luis Trápaga, Ernesto Santana, Waldo Fernández, Pablo Pascual, Yania Suárez and myself– had decided to leave when a small truck arrived and we were all detained. The men were taken to Vivac inside the closed vehicle.
With the title of this piece, I could describe an unexpected separation from our families that meant we were to spend New Year ’s Eve away from them. For Pablo Pascual, Don Sayú, Pavel Herrera y Ernesto Santana this distance was aggravated by hunger: they abstained from eating while in Vivac. However, I could also refer to the unity and mutual support that quickly emerged between unknown people from different professions and social strata. I was able to verify then that the poorer the Cuban opposition is, the darker its skin, and the farthest it lives from La Habana, the more it suffers.

                                     “the negro had left his stink on me”

Duviel Blanco, who drives a “bicitaxi” in La Habana Vieja, was threatened by the State Security officer who received us in Vivac. In order for him to understand the risk he had of losing his job in case he continued acting within the political opposition, the officer exhorted him to decide between the way in which he earns his life and his activism, since the conservation of one would necessarily implicate the loss of the other.
Miguel Campanioni sells slushies and has had the cart he uses to do his work seized by the State Security in a previous occasion. In another one, they stole his shoes and his mobile phone.
Don Sayú, a member of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU, in Spanish) who lives in Santiago de Cuba, told us about the methods used by the police to reduce the political manifestations of the opposition in that city. He told us about how they undress the activists and drop them kilometres away from their homes with no shoes, and how the beatings are much more common. Nevertheless, he also told us about the respect UNPACU deserves in Santiago de Cuba, and while listening to him and feeling his extraordinary desire for justice, it was but natural to evocate the mysterious figure of the heroes from Santiago, from Antonio Maceo, Flor Crombet and Donato Mármol, to José Daniel Ferrer, national director of UNPACU.
Andrés Pérez, president of the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and their Families (CAPPF), as well as Carlos Manuel Hernández, Delio Francisco Rodríguez and Ariobel Castillo, members of such organization, were also present with us in the detention centre.
It was Ariobel Castillo who heard, right before the last group was released, the officer on duty during January 2nd saying that “the negro had left his stink on me”. He was referring to Don Sayú, whom this officer and others had forced out of his cell and into the bus in which he would be deported to Santiago de Cuba. The attitude of the duty officers varied ostensibly during those four days, but in this occasion this one added that, in order to end our demonstrations inside the detention centre, the only thing they needed to do was to execute one of us. The head of the detention unit – in these days of frequent lies I must clarify: the one that always presented himself as the head of the detention unit –, two white stars in his shirt collar, heard him and simply walked away without reprimand him for such a stupid manifestation of racism and hate.
The title of this article could also be determined by the moments of communion. Those in which all of us coincided and agreed delighted, and seemed to forget our discomforts, both physical and spiritual.
One of these moments was produced by the arrival, during the second day of our reclusion – January 31st – , of Claudio Fuentes, who had then been in Cuba only for seven days after arriving from New York where he had been for six months. This situation in itself represents an amusing contrast. Claudio spent that whole night remembering and chatting about New York to a public that offered him all the attention, which had on him a pleasant and stimulant effect.

         There also was, along these four days, an action of refined treachery
The arrival of a new detainee to the centre – besides Claudio and Campanioni, Miguel Borroto also arrived during the second day of our detention – invigorated the group, in the same way that somebody’s release left us with a mix feeling of anxiety and emptiness. This is the reason why political prisoners are managed using a method of gradual releases; the expectation for freedom works according to principles beyond reason, always producing uneasiness and anxiety.
Still reflecting upon our group’s communion, there was an event that no one of those present there will be able to forget. Not even common prisoners, who were I separated cells but could hear us. And maybe not even El Sexto and Sonia – a member of UNPACU whose surname is unknown to me and who was in hunger strike since days before – who were probably there but in cells for common prisoners, a strategy used by the regime to conceal some of its political-led detentions. On December 31st at twelve o’clock in the evening, we sang the national anthem and screamed – as much as our throats allowed us, since these had been used enough during the day – “Castros Out”, “Long Live Free Cuba”, “No More Misery”, “No More Kidnaps by State Security”. After that delighting catharsis, those who hadn’t eaten forgot their hunger, our dirtiness was forgotten, as well as the lack of tooth paste, all the discomforts of our incarceration were forgotten and we resembled free individuals who had erased 60 years of tyranny with their shouting and chanting.
There also was, along these four days, an action of refined treachery, one that grants a simple detention the character of kidnapping, and turns into paramilitary troops the police forces that execute it. In Cuba, every detainee has the right to make a phone call as soon as he or she arrives at the police station or detention centre. This call is the most basic procedure to which a detainee must resort in order to give notice to his or her family. Reclusion in itself, legal or illegal, is enough of a penalty and there is no need to offend the detainee by denying him this elemental procedure. The denial of our communication needs, added to a complete lack of official information about our situation, accentuates the criminal character of our detention.
While I was in that cell, I was conscious of my situation and of the anguish I was feeling, and even without knowing what was reserved to us, I was conscious of what was happening: my family wasn’t. Hearing about their sadness, their confusion, their heated mobilization in favour of my release allowed me to realise how much my family had suffered – for moments even more than my self – because of me. All this due to the impossibility I had of alleviating their suffering with my voice.

                               With such attitude, Tania Bruguera 
                     started one work but delivered a second one
I even asked the many officers who orchestrated our kidnapping if any of them could call my family, and for moments I hoped they had already done so. Vain illusion. I told the State Security agents that as a member of the opposition I would never consent to their imprisonment on a space with no laws. Neither would I approve wrongs to be committed against their families or friends as a result of the penalties they might incur for their present crimes.
However, in order to name this article it wouldn’t be enough to refer solely to our experience, without referring to the artwork that mobilized each of us and its administration by Tania Bruguera. After igniting our passion, Tania did not turn her back on the consequences, something she could have done relying on the fact that she was simply the artist. She had already suffered the consequences for taking her work that far – she was detained much before December 30th, when she had arranged the performance of her work.
Once freed, and knowing the conditions we were facing, she arrived at Vivac along with Antonio Rodiles and other democratic activists. This led to their second incarceration – Antonio Rodiles had also been imprisoned and released before - , and once in prison the artist demanded not to be released until all detainees were free. Apparently, her desire was fulfilled. With such attitude, Tania Bruguera started one work but delivered a second one, in a type of performance art that is left to unfold at its own expense and shapes itself freely, though the artist remaining as its protagonist.
She demonstrated that it is possible to perform as an artist while holding on to civic coherence, something many others try to dilute within the demands of their work. Through her actions, she entered that set of women who set the example and allow us to feel proud of our political activism. Women such as Sonia Garro, Yoani Sánchez, Berta Soler, Ofelia Acevedo, and many others. Tani Bruguera tried to invert the regimen’s logic and, for the first time during Castrism, allow the gathered people to speak up.
While this version of Tatlin’s Whisper ended so differently from what was initially expected, the procedural response of the Cuban paramilitary troops was crude as usual. Their use of pseudonyms, the absence of their names in their presentations, and the predilection for the shadows as ideal space for their operations reveal their marked cynicism.
Tatlin’s Whisper pays homage to Vladimir Tatlin, the great Soviet artist who promoted a type of art deeply rooted in social reality. I also identify within the name a distinguished tribute to a Soviet generation who believed they could attain paradise, without realising how close they were from hell. The actions of the Cuban paramilitary troops resemble better the immoral betrayal this stimulant movement suffered from Vladímir Ilich Lenin and his genocidal ideological descent, headed by Iósif Stalin.
                                                                                                    Boris González Arenas
20 de enero 2015



Many can be the reasons according to which we feel empathy towards strangers. The author of that book we would have liked to write, the brainy that solved an extraordinary problem by changing the order of its components, or that person avoided by everyone but whom is revealed to be the extraordinary human being that offered refuge to young men when the tanks laid waste to the square. All of these become references of different kind to people who don’t know them or anything of their personal life, by the simple fact of the admiration felt towards their achievements. There is a bit of everything in it: the esteem towards great physical or intellectual feats, the just acknowledgment of those who understand that, in a similar situation, would have closed their windows and ignored the plea of the endangered/chased. It is also the exercise of transcendental goodness, which removes the admiring subject from the egocentric praise and reinforces the very existence of that which is admired.

These days we have been a little bit in Leinier Dominguez shoes, the Cuban who last Monday June 3rd was announced champion of the fourth stage of the Chess Grand Prix, held in Thessaloniki, the famous Greek city. To be a bit in his shoes does not mean or entail the chauvinistic reclaiming of the champion, or the appropriation of some of his benefits. It is rather the merit we are entitled to for having followed his steps all these years, enjoying his victories and draws, and hoping that the losses do not bring him disenchantment, certain that those who know how to keep their pace have extraordinary possibilities of success.

Leinier’s successes in Thessaloniki were followed by many of us through Abdul Nasser, the foreign name journalist who, through the newspaper Juventud Rebelde referred to them with an excitement rarely seen in Cuba’s media landscape, where is fashionable to suppress exaltation.

Leinier may not be fully aware of the great significance of his triumph and his subsequent return to our island. In the past, a man named Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz enjoyed to parade around our celebrities: from a sick milking cow to a boxing champion. The commander´s flatteries were endless. The champion passed, thankful, from a miserable ghetto anywhere to a house in Miramar and the right to enter shops selling products in dollars, forbidden to everybody else. It was the politics of the humiliating incentives, of the bringing together that ended up growing apart. The champion able to endure that stench could continue to enjoy his condition, and many managed to.

Present times, however, are moving in different directions. Camouflaged behind a false pragmatism, social funds suffer from an increasingly pauperization by official politics. Budgets for health and education have been reduced, as has also been the ones for culture and sports. To this new way of doing politics the tenacity of the nation, as well as its brilliance, constitute more of an impediment. A virtuous nation, to which Leinier contributes with his recent triumph, daze the argument of those who glorify humility in order to use it against other people’s accomplishments, who applaud the undifferentiated individual in order to boost the mass of Cubans reduced to servitude. Leinier no longer fits this profile. Talent requires independence and demands recognition.   
In recent months we have had to assimilate, not without sadness, that Dyron Robles, the extraordinary Guantanamo athlete who runs with a crucifix and read in between competitions, asked to abandon the national athletics team among unpleasant rumors of state unpaid debts and exaggerated fees being taken out of his prizes. More recently Wilfredo León, the world’s volleyball prodigious kid, was punished by the bureaucrats in exercise, thus risking the career of who might grow up to be the greatest volleyball player of all time. Within our devious labyrinth of bureaucratic resentfulness Michael Jordan could be transformed in a mere forms handler and Usain Bolt into a dynamic employee of any fast food restaurant. Leinier arrives emanating his own brightness; like León y Robles, we Cubans continue to admire him. In the corridors inside which our downfall has been masterly crafter over the last half of a century, however, Leinier must know that more than one beast has begun to wave the traps where to entangle his genius, and that his enemies’ pieces cannot will not be found on top of the table.

Boris González Arenas
13 de junio 2013


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