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Posted April 02, 2010 by publisher in Cuban History

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by Andrew Watson

Viewing across the Havana Bay the oil refinery chugs out Venezuelan gasoline and the Casablanca Ferry is gliding to to Old Havana. As your eyes follow the ferry, the Terminal San Francisco has a solitary significant guest moored. Topped with an American flag and a Cuban Flag is a modest sized schooner, Amistad is her name.

Several years ago there was an incident involving several men liberating the ferry for an escape. After a couple swift days in court the men were executed. The ironic contrast of the ferry and Amistad, the most symbolic slave ship popularized by the Stephen Spielberg movie can’t be ignored. The slaves were liberated, eventually allowed to return to Africa. The Cubans were liberated from this world.

A symbolic gesture by both counties is the ship actually being in a Cuban port with the crew ashore paying a tribute to the end of the slave trade. Both countries still suffer in the human rights and racism departments so neither has the right to criticize the other. Yet one country has its first black president and the other suffers from extreme racial profiling throughout its police force and society.

On the shoreline road known as the Malecon, the traffic is steady and the odd couple is strolling along on the sidewalk. The state run newspapers and television stations have carried information regarding the ship being in the city’s port. The night before, Cuban television played Amistad the movie. On the surface this is a brave act of co-operation by Raul Castro, the successor to his brother Fidel.

One would think that a country of educated citizens would be eager to see a significant part of history and a sort of history in the making. Along the malecon there is the occasional tourist taking a quick photo. Cubans themselves completely absent with the exception of a lonely security officer sitting on the concrete knee wall and the more than likely secret police hidden away in the adjacent buildings. Beside Terminal San Francisco a couple of regular policemen and a motorcycle cop are having a jovial conversation, more than likely about the Havana Industriales baseball team.

I reveal to my wife that I couldn’t resist a conversation with the secret police agent to get a sense of what was going on. He is surprised with the absolute lack of interest by the Cuban people considering the importance of the event. We both agree that this is a significant effort taken by the crew of Amistad and the two governments. 

Within my heart I was hoping to see some of the dissidents and the Ladies in White show up for the Amistad, linking their cause for liberty with the symbolic ship. This was not to be, I am sure that the tactics of the Cuban government of isolating the Ladies in White was successful. Yes this was the potential watershed event for change in Cuba, an event that will have to happen another day.

The brave ladies dressed in white have been peacefully protesting for six years now slowly making some attitude change in Cuba. Their goal to free their husbands and sons, jailed for conveying calls of reforms and freedoms. The need for dissidents undertaking actions for change will continue until there is a moment similar to the Berlin wall falling. One day the need for hunger strikes will stop.

It is the complex layers of Cuban society, the ramifications that a citizenry pays from a system of government using censorship and information manipulation that causes an undeniable malaise. This malaise will be a big hurdle to jump and usually not included in conversations about the impending change in Cuba. One of Cuba’s truest barometers of impending change is the arts community and its longstanding use of double meanings. Watching Cuban art evolve to more direct meanings is significant, running parallel to the impending change to its society. 

I gave several of my artist friends blank stretched canvases about the size of a letter page. The only parameter I gave them was the subject, Libertad (Liberty), a topic that can be interpreted differently depending on one’s point of view. Days later emerged several images from the group, one of which is symbolic and haunting, overshadowing the other paintings. It takes your breath away with its simplicity and iconic imagery.

This painting features a red dawn in the background with the ghostly white silhouettes of the Ladies in White marching forth for change. The ladies have halos, an angelic aura, above it all and beyond reproach. It is truly representative of the artist’s hope for change and the bravery it takes to make change. An image more symbolic than support marches in Miami or Los Angeles, far more important than words from Andy Garcia or Gloria Estefan.

For the safety of this significant Cuban artist his name will be held in secret until safer times arrive on the island.

Please use (Royalty Free), the image as a symbol for change in Cuba, on websites, television presentations and print media. Credit Libertad Studio, 2010

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on April 02, 2010 by jmw1 with 62 total posts

    ‘actions for change wil continue until there is a moment similar to the Berlin wall falling’
    Yes indeed, that moment will be when Fidel Castro drops dead.


  2. Follow up post #2 added on April 06, 2010 by HavanAndrew with 87 total posts

    Cuba: Reason vs. Barbarism
    de Jorge Olivera Castillo Sindical Press
    Marţi, 6 aprilie 2010, 15:12

    The Cuban government has shown its true face to the world. However, what could be plainly seen was not an expression of goodness or sound judgment - what explanation could there be for a crowd attacking with impunity three or four dozen women dressed in white?

    I wonder what category of barbarism could be assigned to such crowds consisting of people blinded by hate and other dispositions springing from the darker side of the soul.

    These days, the dictatorship has put its machinery of terror into full operation. By exercising acts of meanness and abuse it is striving to put an end to the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) movement. The expressions of the government’s anger range from smear campaigns and gross misrepresentations of the truth to indiscriminate use of brute force.

    Verbal harassment in form of unutterable obscenities and shameful allusions is no longer enough: crowds of people assembled with the aim to intimidate and offend have recently started to punch, push and kick.

    Thus they act without a slightest trace of humanity, resembling wild beasts in the full of their wild instincts. They scream, pounce and jump, enjoying the opportunity to abuse their victims. There’s no room for sensitivity during these “acts of repudiation”, which could be also seen as a rehearsal for lynching.

    On Wednesday March 17, such cruelty materialized at the exit of the Church of Santa Barbara in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo.

    A peaceful march of about 40 women members of the Ladies in White citizen organization was severely attacked by Interior Ministry troops and vigilante groups.

    All the women were beaten and dragged into a bus. Several were in need of medical attention, including Laura Pollan and Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, prisoner of conscience who recently died in a prolonged hunger strike. She participated in the march in protest against the inhuman treatment that her son had regularly suffered from the hands of his jailers.

    In a series of 7 marches taking place between March 15 and 21 in commemoration of the 7 years of imprisonment of members of the famous Group of 75, the Ladies in White have endured such degree of victimization by perpetrators protected by a high level of impunity as well as by creatures fully prepared to use all their wickedness, that we are compelled to think about a bloody outcome.

    On Thursday 18, on their way back to the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in the municipality of Old Havana, the Ladies in White were once and again harassed by a mob composed of about 300 people.

    This time, the crowd shouting pro-government slogans only jeered at them and jostled them.

    Nevertheless, the demands of freedom of the approximately 50 women marching in two parallel rows down the middle of the street could be heard in spite of the thunderous clamour of the mob.

    The Ladies in White insist that they will not cease their efforts; that they will continue to demand the unconditional release of their relatives.

    Fighting for their cause, they are not afraid to die or go to jail. Against such determination – a proof of their moral height -  their executioners and their assistants are as small as Lilliputians.

    Their honesty shines between the shadows of the regime that has lost both the sense of decency and the map of virtue.

    They are not daunted by infinite abuse. They go straight ahead in silence, holding high their gladioli. I could see them on that Thursday, March 18, amid the crowd of crooks.
    Despite death threats, obscenities and all the shamelessness displayed by the large crowd that surrounded them there was no trace of fear in their faces.

    Once again I realized that their courage is genuine, it’s not blotted or scratched.
    Their convictions are like steps on the staircase leading to the door of success.

    About the author: Cuban poet and journalist Jorge Olivera was sentenced to 18 years in prison for giving the true information about the real Cuba. He was arrested together with other 28 independent journalists during the so called Cuban Black Spring in 2003, when there was a crackdown on the Cuban opposition. He was sentenced in 24 hours without the possibility to talk to his defender. In December 2004 he was released on medical parole – he almost lost his sight and his health conditions were rapidly worsening. Now, Jorge Olivera Castillo is a head of unofficial PEN Club Cuba.


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