A Silhouette of Light in the Midst of Shadows / Regis Iglesias

22 04 2013

Regis Iglesias and Oswaldo Paya, prior to the 2003 Black Spring

At 9 am I called tía Beba’s house. I was waiting to hear Efrén answer the phone as usual and update me on the early news of that March 19th day, as we did every day. The day before I had called in the morning and asked him to ask Oswaldo if my presence was necessary in the neighborhood of el Cerro. I wanted to dedicate the afternoon to getting together with the Citizen Committee of the 10 de Octubre district, and check on the march for the signature collection campaign in support for the Varela Project demand. After checking in with Oswaldo, he gave me the green light.

I spent March 18th along with fellow activists until late in the afternoon. Later on, as usual, I visited my friends in the neighborhood and ended the night well after midnight with my dearest friends Luis Torres and Alejandro Rivero. Back home my worried mother waited for me, as news went around of the arrest of a group of activists and independent journalists who were gathered in James Cason’s home, the Principal Officer to the U.S Interest Section in Havana.

So that she wouldn’t worry, I didn’t give it much importance. I told her that as usual, they would let them go after a couple of hours, and that in any case, some of Cason’s guests were notorious informants for the regime’s political police. What was happening had nothing to do with us.

I hadn’t had the chance to look at the official reports because I had been busy at work as manager of the Citizen Committees. Besides, the circles I was frequenting weren’t too fond of listening to the “round tables” or the regime’s news. Therefore, that March 18th I had been unaware of the storm that battered against the peaceful Cuban opposition. In any case, the disinformation of the official television did not give bigger clues as to what was really happening.

I went to sleep and my mother felt more tranquil.

The next day, on March 19th, it wasn’t Efrén who answered the phone. I was surprised as I heard Ernesto Martini, “Freddy”, pick up the phone and say: “Come here immediately, last night they detained Efrén, several managers for the Varela Project al over the country, and other members of the opposition”. I couldn’t yet understand what was happening when I hung up the phone and left immediately on my bike on my way to el Cerro.

Oswaldo was already with Tony Díaz in the streets, visiting the families of those who had been detained; the list grew longer every hour. They also went to visit members of the diplomatic body in Havana that was responsible for denouncing what was happening, without a doubt a repressive wave whose outcome was still unknown.

I started answering phone calls from members of the press who were interested in knowing what was occurring. At the same time, new information was constantly reaching us about arrests throughout the country. The numbers reached dozens by that second day of the repressive surge.

That night Oswaldo came back along with Tony; they were exhausted. Tony went back home to Marianao to clean up and eat something. To distract the kids a bit, we had promised to take them to the Cerro stadium to watch a baseball game starring the Industriales team. However, as we were eating dinner before going out with Oswaldito and Rei, Rosa María picked up a call that seemed urgent. “Hold on, I’ll put Regis on the phone,” said Rosa Maria to the speaker while she gave me a worried look. It was Yeni, Tony’s older daughter. Crying, she was telling me that they were arresting her father. I cheered her up and tried not to worry her even more.

We didn’t go to the baseball game. Oswaldo and I went to tía Beba’s house, a block away from his, and took over Freddy’s post as we answered calls from family members and journalists. Already the political police’s siege had reached our neighborhood. We could see dozens of people on foot and in automobiles going around our block and passing in front of Beba’s house. Then came a Spanish correspondent to interview Oswaldo, and he was with us for a long while waiting for our own arrests. Years later this journalist proved to be an agitator who for some reason only he can clarify, has been determined to openly attack peaceful Cuban dissidents and to defend the hangmen and hit men of the regime.

Freddy had already left and only Oswaldo and I remained to face the imminent assault on his aunt’s house, where our office functioned. Late in the night, when everything seemed more calm, we agreed that I would stay the night at Beba’s house, since thousands of new signatures in support of the Valera Project were still there.

The next morning, on March 20th, Freddy arrived. Oswaldo and I went to Ricardo Montes’s house, another leader of our Movement. The persecution we faced was fierce; we had wanted to move around in Ricardo’s old motorcycle, but seeing how aggressive our persecutors were, we decided not to take the risk and to continue onto Tony’s house on a bus.

The State Security cars were ostentatiously visible. One of them, which we had been following with our eyes since we took the bus on 51st Ave, moved ahead, and when we reached the next stop an agent came down from the car and got on the public vehicle in which we were traveling. He came as close as three feet from us inside the bus.

When we stepped down, he got off with us, and continued to walk a couple of yards behind us until he disappeared into a car. At that moment, we were being followed by a white van, an ambulance, two Ladas and even a Mercedes Benz. Only the helicopter was missing, perhaps for lack of fuel, in an effort to corner two simple and peaceful mortals like us.

We arrived at Díaz’ house, and found his whole family there, worried: his wife Gisela, his daughter Yeni, his mother-in-law and his brother. They told us about the violent unfolding of the intimidation efforts against his wife and his younger daughters the night of Tony’s arrest.

We immediately moved to the Dutch embassy. The ambassador guaranteed that her country would denounce the oppressive wave, and would ask the Cuban regime to explain itself. The same occurred in the Spanish embassy, where Oswaldo was able to speak to President Aznar and with Pat Cox, then president of the European Parliament.

We moved on and passed by a Church where many friends were assembled. We were able to see images on CNN in which they interviewed independent journalist Omar Rodríguez Saludes. From the balcony of his apartment, the cameras focused on the deployment of agents waiting for orders to detain him. We read an interview that I had given Miami’s New Herald the day before, denouncing the cowardly provocations from the regime. At the same time, we crafted an emergency plan for such a dramatic moment.

We were exhausted but could not stop; our pursuers could stop if they wanted. As we stopped briefly to drink something, Oswaldo tells me: “We’ll gather every member of the movement in front of Villa Marista until they release every single detainee.”

I replied, “Don’t you realize this is purposely directed against us? The great majority of those arrested are managers of the Valera Project. They have detained our leaders in the entire country, and only you and I remain. No; whoever remains must organize our people again and continue. Those of us who fall must wait for better times, now there’s nothing we can do. We have a minimal base but it’s not enough to challenge the government on this terrain. If we act with a hot head we’ll destroy everything we have accomplished. It already feels strange that I haven’t been arrested yet.”

He looked at me; I noticed his anguish. Oswaldo was suffering for every single one of our detained brothers, and for their families. He wanted to be there himself, behind the walled-in doors of Villa Marista, the general headquarters of the Cuban political police. I felt his suffering; I was able to see that man’s greatness through the pain in his eyes, while at the same time they shined with the same determination as always to continue, despite everything, fighting for the rights of all Cubans.

We went on until reaching the parish church Cristo Rey. We stepped inside the temple. A priest who was our friend came to us worried with what was happening according to the news; he offered to take me home in his car. I thanked him but declined his kind gesture; I had to continue along with Oswaldo. We knelt down for a couple of minutes and prayed for our detained brothers, for their families, for the leaders and activists of the MCL and the Cuban opposition, for the thousands of citizen signatories of the Valera Project and for all Cubans. The sinister cloud that has reigned over our dear homeland for so many decades is today even more dangerous and menacing.

We went back to Beba’s house, with the hope that everything had stopped and that we would hear back from the first freed dissidents in a few hours. Freddy presented the hard reality, more people had been arrested, and there was no sign that what was happening was something, as in other times, temporary.

We then put ourselves to the task of contacting those who were still in liberty, communicating to them that the work for the rights of Cubans would continue under any circumstance.

Around 8 pm I told Oswaldo I would go to my parents’ house for a few hours and that I would come back as soon as I was done cleaning up and eating something. He insisted that I should stay. “Don’t go, these people are being very aggressive and they could arrest you too. Ofe (his wife, Ofelia) can make you something to eat and you can shower here.”

“No”, I said, “if they’re going to arrest me they should do it already. I have the feeling they haven’t done it because we have been together all day, but we can’t avoid it forever. Besides, I don’t want them to arrest me while I’m with you. I know you and you’re going to try to stop it, putting yourself at risk. I won’t allow it! You save the Movement, save the Valera Project, and take care of my daughters….Go home with the kids and Freddy and I will go to Lawton for a while and come back.”

He looked at me like a father who could no longer avoid the decisions of a grown son. If he could, he would have tied me down to a chair so I wouldn’t leave. If he could he would have hugged me and wouldn’t have let me go alone to meet our persecutors. All of this he said without speaking, only with his eyes.

“I’ll see you later Bapu”, I said to him, and turned around to speak to Freddy about some trivial topic, waiting for Oswaldo to walk away. I felt him as he left, and it was then that I turned around to look at him as he walked into the darkness of the night towards his house, where Ofelita and the kids waited, worried, for him to come back.

He walked with a firm pace and in his characteristic style. His fists were closed, as with the fury of not being able to stop the unstoppable, as if everything depended on him to bring liberty to Cubans, as if he wanted for himself everything that would befall on us. As if he knew that the road did not end there, and that it would fall on him and on the youngest of his disciples to confront together, alone and years later, the cross of martyrdom.

That was the last time we saw each other, and I’ll never be able to forget his silhouette of light disappearing among the shadows.

Minutes later from my mobile phone I would send him a call, but I wasn’t speaking. As soon as I was able to perceive the maneuver of our detention, I was able to make the call and to throw the phone under the taxicab in which we traveled, amid the struggle with my captors, to stop them from getting it and to give Oswaldo’s family time to find out we had been arrested.

Ofelita, I found out later, was the person who answered the phone and desperately gave it to Oswaldo, as he heard how we were kidnapped right in public. I know that he, our dear Bapu, while admonishing the hit-men who finally picked up the phone with a bit of effort under the car, let run through his tense cheek, a limpid crystal of good-bye.

See you soon, Oswaldo, I know we’ll find each other again, Bapu.

Original post in Spanish is here.

Translator’s note: Regis Iglesia was sentenced along with the other political prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring, in his case to 18 years.  He was released in 2010 in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and sent into exile in Spain.

Translated by: Claudia D. 

23 March 2013

As I Write Dying

19 04 2013

1362159962_72643_434419779971453_324617027_nThe Revolution has maybe two or three weekends left. Then, before or after that bad metaphor which is the arrival of spring, we’ll be living in a full holocaust. The State will probably have to kill liberally in order to survive two or three more weekends. The exiles, it will be fairly easy to trap them in labyrinths of death that will superficially appear to be ordinary. The world is so violent. But in the island, there will be a certain political price to be paid, something that at this point in history, to the executioners (and to some extent even to their victims) does not matter a single bit.

Yesterday in Cuba a red drizzle fell, and an exiled poet who was to die a natural death, did not die. The sky descended upon us, the clouds took material form, and the chimney of the Regla refinery reflected red to the greatest possible extent, like a lustful campfire of meat, which in turn was reflected upside-down on the oily waters of the bay. From my staircase I can see it.

Many times I get naked at night. Otherwise, the oppression on my chest won’t let me sleep. I touch myself. I listen closely to myself. I hoist myself. I make myself. Apocubalyptic visions come to me. I see cars passing at full speed. I see my best friends dead (which has already happened in real life), laying in transparent ambulances, which for some unknown reason always come howling down Reforma street, in Luyanó, where I have never lived or made love. Although I almost did. On the corner of Enna and Fábrica, at the foot of a very, very red Royal Poinciana.

Other times I crash early into sleep, without messing up my bed, warm ears and a colossal numbness in my head. More asleep than alive. Narcolepsy. My veins bursting with pressure. I wonder why I never die during the night. And then I jump up like a spring and I can not sleep anymore until a little after sunrise. I start reviewing books and pdf’s; the eternal Chapter 1 of my cult novel (every night I discard it and write another one, that’s the cult). This last season has a unique title plagiarized from José Martí’s only love. Because he was too shrewd a guy to dare to open up and finally tell something about his life, without shrilling sounds or subordinate disciplinaries: with a bit of luck, my novel will be simply called “Your Girl.”

Even though this Chapter 1 is really about my girl.

Trains. The helpless bleating of the trains arrive all the way to my corner of Lawton. The church looks like a dinosaur fossil. A church where last year I photographed the Cuban Cardinal surrounded by State Security, almost shivering from it. Meanwhile, a filthy mob, ignorant to the point of fanaticism, carried a wooden doll with bright rags, and literally beat each other up in an effort to touch it, for the inert icon to heal them or to finally get them out of the damned country. To get them out as soon as possible, before Day F, for example; preferably to get them out right now, before the war with the Eskimos breaks out. Because American literature never lies: there will be a war to the death with the Eskimos. In fact, we all live in our igloo (cold in the mind, cold in the soul, cold in the heart: we are serial murderers).

It will be as easy as crushing skulls with tools made out of ice, the only ones that don’t leave expert fingerprints. This is how they’re already killing the Cubans, as political experimentation and as an adjustment of environmental parameters. But, since this an extermination under Cuban institutions, sloppy because of small salaries, there are always traces of its criminality (if no one cares, it’s obvious, because without corpses Cuba would be a chaos).

The ships stranded in the bay can also be heard thundering from my room. The moon is absolute, and the mango tree looks alive (it isn’t, no form of life is). I wish this instant never fled from my window. The sun would be, in this moment, as insulting as a glob of spit.

The future threatens. We don’t realize it because we have worked hard and honestly to humiliate ourselves. We have each given our very best to make sure that at least our kids have the comfort of being slaves. Such are the genes in this island: docile, like the poet Dulce María Loynaz chirping in her almost confiscated garden (who, by the way, is still alive, and the persistence of words is today her inferno).

There isn’t a single leader who is not dying. There isn’t a single book that can be finished before first bidding farewell to the mourning of its author. The hope is that no one resurrects. That this slice of planet be at last emptied. To renovate the race. To run, run without legs in a marathon of those crippled by cancer. To dance on a thin plaster board, made out of male saints sacrificed in exchange for what.

Democracy is a hot pistol. The Tropic of Cancer line reeks of bodily decay. We rotted. Time is a hereditary flaw that we have carried because we have been unable to jump from our own balcony (the staircase in Lawton may be very high, like a planetary observatory so that no shower of cosmic objects can surprise us). I nod. I start falling asleep with the deepest rays of socialist sun in the horizon, which burn like an acid with a pH of zero.

I’m leaving. My dreams of Cuba can go perch on any another criminal Cuban. I don’t want to participate in one more single death in this orgy. Every orgy is morbidly childish, a dismal theater. And I wanted to grow. To want.

Lastly, I want to warn you, that among my books there are several rulebooks for guevarist guerrillas. They are written with the feet, but they are sharp and definitive. Solemn, forgettable, and again childish (as every death is). Materialism for butchers with a metaphysical life. And that osmosis is always good for those who float dispersed in the bubble of the days. Of God.

Why do I feel so happy? If I cannot forget you.

Enough, voice.

Translation by JT (thank you Orlando, for writing simply), by Mariposa Soñadora, and by Claudia D. 

1 March 2013


13 04 2013

Today, New York unravelled a little before my uneasiness.

My heart shrinks at the hour of twilight. The city makes itself ephemeral, Cuba emerges with the darkness. I extend my hands and breathe out loud, but still it’s as if never again I would be able to love my love.

I buy cards to call the world (really, they buy them for me). I enter and leave a marvelous function on Broadway (really, I am invited and madly waste the opportunity). The people outside take pictures by a sea of disguises and vivid colors (I keep going without hooking on the thousand and one looks that propose a wink of who knows what). I try to take a taxi but all go by full. I cough, cough and expel a bit of water through the nose. The skyscrapers are toys. They forgive me but, precisely because they are in front of me, I cannot believe them (too much Hollywood weakens a sense of what’s real). Behind are death and repression: banal, vile, misleading. Like Cuba in this hour of the world in which I escaped (only to be caught later as a rabbit).

On the Columbia University campus, some North Americans show their Castro slogans against Yoani Sánchez. In my opinion, everything is a show. They shouldn’t have read her (I don’t either read her anymore: from now on, only action will change the criminal state of our society, which is dismantling its most decent families with blows of horror). But even repudiation in New York is beautiful, and it’s difficult to compare such pop protests with the savage deeds in the streets of Cuba that the Ministry of the Interior sponsors without pay: of what I know, they hire prisoners and workers (excuse the redundancy) in exchange for a snack and organic juice (in Brazil it was our excellent ambassador who recruited the leftists in exchange for free scholarships in the Island of Liberty).

I speak with the exiled. They have followed me in the last years through the internet, which I find to be completely disconcerting. I start to meet the graphic face of the free Cuban blogosphere, the magnanimous Rolando Pulido, an exceptional soul. We chew things (I’ve spent days and days in which I barely eat, barely sleep: I think only like this I will resurrect), my body needs to be touched by the gaze of love. The exiled know that very soon they will not longer be exiled, that we have to found a new country without hatreds or a past, where only the Communist Party out of respect will have to be at least 50 years with electoral limits (without vengeance, which wouldn’t bring even a pinch of liberation, but bringing to the forefront all the truth about how much and how much in Cuba was eradicated with the intention to perpetuate one or two people in power).

For while the post-exiled amuse themselves with my nonsense in 140 characters and, even though their spirits seem much more sensitive than those of anyone else on the island, they don’t have the slightest clue that my funniest tweets are the product of an asphyxiating desperation. I say it for the first time at the sight of the arrogant Hudson river: only in Havana could I love my love, only in Havana would I then be the death of my love.

The cold pierces my hands, that finish the day red and with pain. I would like to die of tuberculosis in the XIX century, anagram of the XXIst. I would like to read in The New York Times that the Cuban Revolution was a type of collective illusion, that all Cubans always have lived full of light and with freedom outside (every frontier is a fascism), that within the rotten heap only remain the Castros and a cadaver Twitter account as a dictatorial cenotaph (who inherits the followers of an account once the tweeter dies lying in campaign with the phantom of his recovery). I would like to move only in the metro or that please you teach me this week, you. I would, also, like to be a homeless person, of the type of I have seen at midnight. One day I will get out of the car followed by a caravan of security and I will give them a US dollar bill exchanged for my CUC in Havana. One day, and it’s not a rubbish metaphor, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo will be another homeless in this city and you will not notice. Just give me a little time to complete my cosmic cycle of destruction.

I am finished as a writer.

I’m sorry. I’m very happy.

Translated by: Ylena Zamora-Vargas

15 March 2013

liebling habana

11 04 2013

10 April 2013

The MTA Story

1 04 2013


*Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo*

Recurring dreams, dreams in the electrical night of the third rail when the moon is a cutout on New York’s clouds of smoke. Cloud-tunnels of Elizabeth Bishop. Cloud-graffiti of Rene Magritte.

I have dreamed them, daily.

I drop a couple of hours before dawn and dream recurring dreams of a Havana perforated by a maze of subways. Shelters. War of the whole people. Zero option, reconcentration. City hole, nobody is going to survive the system: this the socialist slogan of the assassins. Psycho killers.

National nightmares made of a Gruyère insomnia.

To dream is that. Short circuits. Crossed cables, like those floating supports of the bridges of this miraculous chip called Manhattan.

I spent 40 years in Manhattan. But once, decades ago, on another long island where death wasn’t even a month old, men in green-surgical uniforms began to dig the metro catacombs of my city.

It was an order that came down directly from the Kremlin (for decades Cuba was the 16th republic annexed to the USSR). Only thus might Havana finally have the dream of a subway. And station number zero would be, of course, in the basement of the Plaza of the Revolution.

From that heart of marble and memory the furrows of propaganda would leave the heart, as well as the earthworms dying from the blast of neons and train whistles (the worms are deaf and blind but have a disproportionate political sensibility).

I was a teenager (if you have been a teenager once, you will be one forever). I had all my teeth intact. I also had intact all my desperation. The idea of a life underground attracted and panicked me.

Hence, perhaps, the circular dreams, sitting near the emergency doors and the guide map. *You are here…*

I dream of changing lines at each stop. Lines with letters and colors. It’s like a child’s game (they are very macabre). The trains fly over the rails, weightless despite their human cargo. There are loudspeakers and an exhaustive signalling, that exhausts. It must be very late already. But to wake up now would be to ask the driver snoozing with God.

The doors open and close in half a second, like hysterical eyelids, like puffs of air from a freedom sewer, like the guillotine of a photographic camera. Within and outside the same light. A cold light of high latitudes with voltage to spare, while I stand up (while still seated) and leave and enter the chain of cars that dissolved in the speed in front of me.

The voice of my father (1919-2000) doesn’t stop lecturing: *Stand clear of the closing doors, please*… and I remember then with pleasure and pain his short Republican English, from some sacred texts with pages of glitter printed in CinemaScope: Life, National Geographic, Reader’s Digest.

As a child I came to think that it was logical to speak and write in Spanish, but that people read exclusively in English. Like my dead father. Like me.

The English that returns to me now in New York is the legacy my father gave to this megalopolis from a corner of Lawton, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, a city on the outskirts of history.

Subsurface citizens ask me for money now in this language and, of course, they look so read playing their guitars and pianos and even batteries, that I give them a dollar and they call me “Sir.” I am more destitute than they are and so I can give myself the luxury of giving them all the cash I carry in the pockets of my US Army overcoat (a family donation from Miami).

I have come from Cuba to New York to dream this infinite succession of images that inevitably make me miss my station. The late night spits me out on the icy pavement. I stumble like a sleepwalker. I hurt down to my gloves. I climb a rocky point of Manhattan. I have no shadow, the light is very weak despite being atrocious; this is to be alone and absolutely not need your pity. In any event I feel sorry for you, because you haven’t heard how the magnanimous rumor of the Hudson doesn’t let me sleep (this sentence drained Marti of all his syllables).

My father even scolds me from the MTA loudspeakers. Stand free of the doors that are about to close, he tells me in archaic English (all language is archaic). My father doesn’t prevent me from having an accident, if by mistake the doors open between the stations. My father tells me that I could be trapped between the cars, immobile, and that I can’t go (he knows that in Cuba accidents are on purpose).

Hence my urge to wake up, in part because of the discipline of the loudspeakers.

1 April 2013