Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"They let him go, but he was always free"


My favorite quote from the three-week saga following the arrest of Anotnio Rodiles comes from Cuban writer and blogger Enrique del Risco who commented upon Rodiles' release:

"They let him go, but he was always free."


For a breaking update on the Rodiles story, you can read this interview with him (English & Spanish) just published at Café Fuerte.

Ivette Leyva Martinez also has this summary at CafeFuerte.

Those many of us who publicly advocated for his release can be justly proud that in only a few days petitions from Amnesty International, Change.org, and many others caught fire and put pressure on the Cuban government to realize that they really had no case against Rodiles.  That is a citizen victory and quite unprecedented.


Of course, as Rodiles said in the interview he gave to Cafe Fuerte, much remains to be done.  There are still other, similar non-violent activists unjustly behind bars in Cuba.

I personally called Antonio at home on Monday night and spoke to him very briefly.  He told me that he gives thanks to all who have supported him and his family during these difficult days.  He also said that he will continue with his citizen activism in Estado de SATS to build a better, more inclusive Cuba.

He put it this way in the Cafe Fuerte interview:

CF: Will you continue Estado de Sats? What are your plans now?  
AR: The project of course will continue and I would say even more forecefully. The idea of the project Estado de Sats, of the campaign “For Another Cuba,” has to do with respect for the rights of Cubans, with respect for the human being first and foremost, with the opportunity to debate, to openly discuss, and I think that with this beating this was the main thing they showed me: this way is the way for Cuba to change, and clearly violence is the enemy. Now more than ever I believe that the work requires total dedication.

One very interesting outcome of his arrest is the legal complaint just filed by four independent Cuban lawyers against Cuban State Security.  You can read about that in Juan Tamayo's Herald story.

"Estado de SATS," the independent, non-violent, citizen-led project founded by Antonio continues to function.

Also, remember that the other reason behind the recent wave of repression is the "Citizen Demand for Another Cuba," which continues to exist and that you can read and add your signature to.

Finally, it is important to note that the Change.org FREE RODILES that I launched with a hand-full of friends received 4,567 signatures in just a few weeks, but that the "Demand" has only received 1,279 so far.

YOU can change this by adding your voice to it now.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

For my brother, Antonio, on the occasion of Thanksgiving - Gladys Rodiles-Haney

Thanksgiving should be celebrated among family. Since I was a child I realized that my family was just my parents and my brother Antonio Rodiles; there are more than enough reasons for me to come to this conclusion but I will keep those private (for now).

That is why I’m not surprised to see my elderly parents all alone (in terms of family support) fighting this nightmare.

However, this sad chapter in our small family history has also seen a powerful outpouring of hope because while facing the horrible situation of my brother's arrest and imprisonment my family has been magically multiplied.

My family - and in particular my brother - is receiving the support of thousands of people around the world who are adding their voices to the demand that he be freed and that all charges against him be dismissed.

I'd like to remind my readers just how easy it is for the Cuban government - which has a monopoly over the domestic media - to manipulate information, pictures, and videos in order to defame its opponents and savage their reputations, leaving them no opportunity to defend themselves.

For example, an article has appeared with photos showing my brother going to the U.S. Interest Section, as if that were a crime or somehow proved that he has been working as some kind of mercenary for the CIA.

It pains me to hear these kinds of allegations because during the early years of the revolution a cousin of my mother, the lawyer Alberto Fernández Medrano, was executed in Camagüey by a firing squad for supposedly being a CIA agent, a charge that was never proven in a court of law.

While it is true that my brother Antonio did visit the USIS - and in fact did so several times - he did so for a very simple reason: to assist my elderly mother in applying for a visa to visit me where I live in the U.S. because I was expecting a baby.

They tried many times but like all everyday Cubans (they have no special privileges), they weren't able to get an interview right away. Actually, my son was born January 4, 2012 and my mother was not able to be with me at the time. She didn't arrive until 4 months later.

During those months and with my son newly born, my husband was diagnosed with cancer placing me in a desperate need of help. Because of this, my brother continued to try his best from Cuba to get my mother a visa to be able to visit me.

Knowing all this, I’m now getting used to see how the Cuban state media manipulates the the truth and says things like: "Rodiles checking in at the USIS."

Here's what I have to say to them:

Antonio Rodiles is authentic, honest, valiant, and respectful.  He knows how to make a serious argument without using violence or mounting false scenarios that rely on the bald manipulation of information, videos, and photos.

The practice of silencing one's opponents instead of debating them openly and rationally is truly shameful and only reveals fear and an utter lack of principle.

On the other hand, the illegitimate effort to silence my brother has only resulted in the growth of my extended family with over 4,200 people signing the "Petition to Free Antonio Rodiles" at Change.org.

And this enlarged family of mine will not stop or give up in the face of fabrications and lies, because quite simply my brother has nothing to hide. It is just this kind of man that they most fear in the fight for justice in Cuba.

Gladys Rodiles-Haney

The sister of Antonio Rodiles, who shared this testimony with me and asked that I share it here as a part of the celebration of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., where she lives with her family. The testimony is also available in Spanish at CaféFuerte.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

SOS Cuba - Omni-Zona Franca - Pray for Us!

"We love all Cubans, 
but we love those who are suffering more."

Who's Rodiles & why is he in jail? (Part II)

Intrepid reporter Tracey Eaton interviewed Antonio G. Rodiles on July 16, 2011 as part of his one-of-a-kind series of video interviews with many of Cuba's leading bloggers and dissidents.

Always one to listen to a broad spectrum of voices, Eaton has also interviewed a fair number of Cuba's "official" bloggers and even some "outed" undercover state security agents.

Next time, he should try to get an exclusive with Yohandry - perhaps with a paper bag over his head! 

Here's the 6-minute interview with Rodiles (with English subtitles). Go here for a full Spanish transcript of the interview.

Also, you can follow these links for more of Tracey's subtitled videos of Cuba's bloggers and transcripts.

Who is Antonio G. Rodiles and why is he in jail?

The past week has seen a major wave of repression unleashed against Cuba's emergent civil society - with a particular focus on a group of young activist intellectuals, artists, and bloggers.

While scores of activists - most of them cyber-activists in one way or another - have been temporarily detained and released (as is the new Raulista strategy), one man remains in jail.

Antonio G. Rodiles

Remember that name.

The last time I was in Cuba in April 2011 I interviewed the Havana Times blogger Alfredo Fernández.  At the end of our interview, he invited me to an upcoming session of something he called "Estado de SATS."

I responded, "Estado de WHAT?"

(So you'll be forgiven if you've never heard of it.)

It turned out that I was too busy over the next few days chasing down bloggers and getting grilled by State Security to go to Estado de SATS, and boy do I now regret it!

"Estado de SATS" (State of SATS) was started by the Cuban Physicist! Antonio Rodiles upon his return to Cuba in 2010 after having lived, studied, and worked as a professor in Mexico and the United States.  Rodiles even got a degree and worked as an adjunct for a time at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

(Café Fuerte has a brief bio of him here - go here for an English translation of the bio - written by his sister, Gladys Rodiles-Haney, who lives in the U.S.  You can also check out this brief news clip from Martí Noticias on Rodiles.)

State of SATS is an independent physical space (convened in Rodiles' family home) as well as a digital television program that is distributed via the Internet abroad and – given the dismal web access in Cuba – from hand-to-hand, flash drive-to-flash drive on the island.

The program is one of the only spaces in Cuba where vital social and political topics are addressed freely, openly, and respectfully, without discrimination or fear, and where no one is excluded for how they think.

Think of it as the Cuban version of the now famous TED Talks.  It was explained to me that the term refers to the feeling of anticipation you get when you are just about to go on stage or when something big is going to happen.

Something BIG is happening indeed.

Antonio Rodiles was arbitrarily detained a week ago by unidentified state security agents.  Reports are that upon arrest he was badly beaten and held incommunicado for a week in part to hide his injuries from the public.

Today, Wednesday, November 14, 2012, he was brought up on trumped up charges of “resisting arrest” and now – if convicted – faces between three months and one year in prison.

Antonio was not arrested for resisting arrest, however.

(Logically, of course, you can't be arrested ONLY for resisting arrest since there has to be another previous cause for the initial arrest attempt!)

He was arrested because he – together with scores of other Cubans – put in motion a demand that the government of Cuba ratify and put into practice the pacts that it signed four years and nine months ago at the United Nations for the wellbeing and prosperity of all Cubans and the respect for their civil and human rights.

This is the “Citizens’ Demand for Another Cuba.”  You can also add your name to the 1,197 others already there.

(You can go here to read and sign the English version of the text, which currently has 744 signatures, and see here for some background on the petition from Yoani Sánchez.)

Antonio and a group of fellow activists in Cuba describe their project in the following video [SP].


Antonio’s mother describes his arrest and the current situation her son is in on this radio clip.

As I say above, after living and studying abroad in both Mexico and the United States, and working as a college professor in Florida, Antonio returned to Cuba in 2010 and launched the “State of SATS” project.

However, Havana's authorities refuse to recognize that there is no law in Cuba against the free exercise of one’s civil rights. Because of this, the police must invent arbitrary charges and treat acts of civil resistance such as the "Citizens' Demand for Another Cuba" and "Estado de SATS" as common crimes.

I call on all people of conscience to put pressure on the Cuban government and on its diplomatic missions and personnel around the world so that they will free Rodiles and comply with the international agreements they have already signed.

Thank you very much for your support.

This video features a declaration by Antonio's main supporters in Cuba and is read by blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.  An English translation of the declaration follows below.


Declaration No. 2, November 11, 2012

On Wednesday, November 7, a group of citizens was arrested outside the so-called Section 21 of State Security, at 31st Avenue and 110th Street, in the municipality of Marianao. The group of about ten people was there to inquire about the legal status and whereabouts of the attorney Yaremis Flores, who was arrested without due process hours earlier.

This was the first of a series of illegal arrests that extended into the next day, when several friends and supporters went to the Acosta Station, between 2nd and 3rd, in the Diez de Octubre municipality, to inquire about the causes of what happened. Other solidarity groups took to the streets in the interior of the country, also victims of arrests and repression. These arrests were accompanies, in the majority of cases, by the cutting off of telephones with the complicity of the companies CUBACEL and ETECSA. Among those arrested were many activists related to the Citizen’s Demand for Another Cuba, which has been developing, in recent months, a campaign which aims to make the Cuban government ratify the International Covenants on Human Rights that Cuba signed in 2008.

Today, 72 hours after the violent arrest of Antonio Rodiles, the principal coordinator of the State of SATS project, and 48 hours after the equally violent detention of the writer Angel Santiesteban, both remain behind bars, on hunger strike, without seeing the sun, without their right to make the telephone call as required, and without communications with their closest family members. We assume that the main reason for the delay in their release is to hide any traces of the severe beatings to which they were subjected at the time of their arrest. So far, it is unknown precisely what the situation is with regards to their physical condition, and the future evolution of both intellectuals.

Police harassment, arbitrary arrests for political reasons, the abuse, and the imputation of crimes not committed, are procedures that are completely outside Cuban law and that were, in fact, being denounced recently by the lawyers Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent (of the independent law firm CubaLex), directing their complaints to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, in a detailed register of persons who are at risk. Governance in Cuba has become pure repressive praxis, far beyond any supposed ideological sign.

We hold Cuban State Security responsible for their actions with regards to the life and health of Antonio Rodiles, Angel Santiesteban, and any other detainee whose arrest we are not yet aware of. The national police should refrain from carrying out arbitrary directions and illegal orders and psychological pressure as ordered by State Security. It should ensure the strict compliance with the laws, in favor of the rights of citizens and their safety. It should stand with the State and not with a government whose legitimacy has expired; for the Cuban nation and not for the so-called Revolution.

We demand the immediate release without charges of Antonio Rodiles and Ángel Santiesteban.

We demand a full accounting by those among the paramilitary groups and the officials involved in these events, which are completely outside the laws of our country.

This is the legitimate demand of a civil society that will not be restrained by any coercion nor driven to violence by those in power, nor will it relinquish a single one of the spaces it has won.

We thank the international community for the interest it has shown toward our struggle. We urge all Cubans, wherever they are, to continue in solidarity with the aspirations of justice and freedom in our society at this definitive historical juncture.

Havana, November 11, 2012


Boris González Arenas

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Lia Villares

Luis Trápaga

Alfredo Fernández Rodríguez

Ailer González Mena

Camilo Ernesto Olivera

David Canela

Walfrido López R.

Claudio Enrique Fuentes Madan

Luis Eligio de Omni

Kizzy de Omni

Gladys Fernández Vera

Manolo Rodríguez Planas

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bike Ride to the Dark Side!

Bike Ride to the Dark Side!
Friday, November 2, 2012
New York City
Island of Manhattan
11:34 p.m.

At 2:30 p.m. I jumped on my trusty, rusty bike and headed south from Washington Heights down into the eerie chaos of mid-town and the ghost town that is southern Manhattan. After about an hour of pedaling south down the West Side Bike Path, I stopped at 34th street just across the street from the Empire State Building for a lecture on the Cuban economy by Carmelo Mesa-Lago at the CUNY Graduate Center's Bildner Center.

More on that excellent and informative analysis in a later post.

When that ended at about 5:45, I jumped back on my bike and rode east on 34th street, planing to pass by my workplace - Baruch College - at 24th and Lexington, and then head down as far south as I could get - and see what I could see. Upon leaving 34th and 5th Ave, I noticed a bizarre scene where the north side of 34th street had power but the south side did not - running all the way east and west like that. Then I noticed literally hundreds of people lined up on the darkened south side of 34th street under a scaffolding that ran the entire block - all of them waiting their turn to get on a bus to take them home from work back into Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx.

I was glad to be on my bike.

When I got to 34th and Lexington and tried to turn right, I was blocked by a wall of busses and realized that I was now at the head of the line of all those people waiting and where a group of 5 or 6 police officers were directing the waiting passengers onto busses as they pulled up. It was quite strange to see all those commuters waiting huddled together and to see that the interchange of 34th and Lex had been transformed into an impromptu bus station!

Finally navigating my way around all the busses and people I flew like the wind south down Lexington toward Baruch at 24th. As I rode, I immediately noticed that the entire ten block stretch between 34th and 24th was in the dark and despite my having seen crowds of people waiting for busses on 34th street, as I glided down Lexington, I was virtually the only vehicle on the road, with all the stores shuttered and all the traffic lights out.

Spooky!

Baruch was shut up tight with only the gleam of emergency lights shining from inside. I crossed over 23rd street and headed past Gramercy Park Hotel, Gramercy Park, and down to Union Square. All this area was without power except for a few buildings that had huge generators humming along outside, providing the basics in power. I slowly made my way south through the darkened canyons that are now southern Manhattan. At every street crossing were a pair of cops directing traffic - the little that there was - and on the larger crossings they had even set up bright red flares to alert motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. I can still smell the phosphorus in my nostrils and see that sharp gleam in my eyes when I close them.

I was happy and even a bit proud to see so many cops out keeping things safe and relatively calm. I did feel a bit of an edge to such a bizarre scene in the city that never sleeps. I was also quite impressed that most people, while perhaps frustrated, seemed to be taking things in stride and I saw no evidence of looting or any kind of crime. Nor have I heard reports about any such behavior. I also noticed that a number of stores - especially food stores and pharmacies - were open for business. The bodegas just worked in the dark, while the pharmacies had generators.

When I got as far south as City Hall, I made a point to turn right (heading west now) so that I could take a look at ground zero. I came up on it from the east, riding beside the huge Century 21 store and saw that the street between them was soaking wet with puddles and even a small stream of water running from the WTC site through a fire drainage hose onto the street and down into the storm drains. Four-days later, they were still pumping water out of "the pit" at the WTC site - and out of the subways and the Path Train tunnel!

I then made my way further south, passing Wall Street, Trinity Church, Bowling Green, the bronze bull statue, making it all the way down to the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park. I then turned right and headed west to take the West Side Bike Path back up north. I passed by my brother's old apartment just north of the WTC site, which cost him $4,700 a month in rent if I remember correctly!. It was all dark without power but there were generator lights in the lobby and doormen there to greet residents.

Instead of going up the West Side Bike Path, I decided to turn back into the city and ride north through the west side of southern Manhattan. I zigzagged north, sometimes on 6th Ave, sometimes on 8th, and finally ending up on 10th - where I passed Chelsea Market riding just beneath the High Line for about 20 blocks. About 80% of that area was still in the dark as of 6:30 p.m. on Friday night. It was quite desolate with very few people around except for cops at every street crossing directing traffic.

When I made it up to about 34th street, I felt like I had crossed back into civilization from the land that time, electricity, and the rule of law had forgot. Between 34th and 59th Streets, there was a massive crush of people and I had to ride my bike quite slow to avoid hitting pedestrians who would wander into the street or bike lane. It was especially crowded around the Port Authority and the NYTimes building.

For a friday night, there were a lot of people like me out riding their bikes. We would strike up cyclist solidarity conversations whenever we found ourselves waiting together at a stop light.

When I got as far north as Columbus Circle, the crowds started to thin out and as I passed into the Upper West Side, I felt as if I were riding through any Friday night in that area, with bars and restaurants open, movie theaters, the Apple Store, shopping, night life, etc. It was an eerie contrast from the different world of southern Manhattan.

Because I had seen enough, I decided to exit Broadway at 83rd Street and headed west to Riverside Drive, intending to take that all the way north to 181st street in Washington Heights, where I live. However, just as I was passing in front of the massive Riverside Church at 116th street, my front tire began to wildly hiss and went flat!

Damn!

Without a spare tube, I had to walk my bike. Luckily, I was just two blocks from the 116th St. stop on the 1-line. So I went into the Subway (for the first time in a week) and - happy at not having to pay, rolled my bike through the open gate and carried it down the stairs. The first northern-bound 1-train was too packed with people for me to get in with my bike. I was able to get on the second train that took me up to 181st and St. Nicholas.

I ran into a neighbor upon exiting the subway and we talked of the eerie state of the city together as we walked the 5 blocks west home.

When I got in, I saw that Obama had ordered Army trucks to deliver gasoline to a starved city and that - responding to rising protests from the city residents and from many of the runners themselves - the organizers of Sunday's NYC marathon had decided to call it off. A neighbor whose two daughters had been staying with her for the week, refugees from the Lower East Side, told me that they (thankfully) had left since ConEd had called to tell them that power was back on in the LES!

I hear that power will be back on for most of Manhattan by tomorrow too - so I guess my "ride to the dark side" was just in time!

And what a ride it was!
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