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…and the sea is now no more. Revelations 21:1

The response to the material nightmare that was buried in the spiritual collapse and in large measure the political and ideological collapse, was the mass escape at the risk of any mishap and even death.

The sea was open defiance, the horizon was the choice of the American dream and who denies that the American dream has always been one of the escape routes most used by Cubans, historically and paradoxically our natures have sought refuge in the shelter of the “monster of the North,” sometimes for political reasons and at others to for economic aspirations; the big neighbor for one reason or another has always opened its doors and provided facilities to those born on the island.

One of these is the famous Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourages with the shelter of the law the escape from the bowels of the known monster, and those Cubans who prefer to try their luck have no room for the refrain better the evil you know than the evil you don’t, because however evil the sea to the north it, it will never be like the one we know.

Thus in the nineties thousands of Cubans took to the waters. I know many who survived the dangerous journey, now living on U.S. soil, but others were trapped, the American dream vanished in the Straits of Florida, it sank like the boat that capsized.

As natives of an island, Cubans have much in common with the sea, from their tanned complexion, food, beaches, the joy of living, to the nostalgia of those who left and the pain of those who died crossing these ninety dividing miles.

But above all the sea is a symbol of freedom for those who have managed to cross the border and may be a symbol of imprisonment for those who stay at home with the latent inability to travel and know new routes. The sea separates us all and locks the invisible bars that surround our Cuba.

The material scarcity but also the spiritual oppression, the hunger to live as human beings, to maximize his youth, to grasp every opportunity that life offers, in 1994 made my friend Frank was launched himself, along with his brother and two young men, on a raft into the sea. Young people prefer to put aside their fears and risk conquering their dreams.

Frank didn’t make it to the United States, his brother did and this became a permanently open wound for him. In a way this post is a tribute to Frank and the thousands of men and women of this country who lost their lives, a tribute to the rafters, who arrived and who did not. In both cases they escaped the bars.

The past is hard, so is the present. And although the Cuban leaders strive to show a world just and full of virtues, a system whose priority is mankind, with advances in health, education and culture, a significant number of Cubans still choose to migrate in some way, legal or illegal, anything to escape this wall that is imposed on us.

The sea remains the symbol of nostalgia for those who left, the path to freedom and progress, the discovery of the unknown; but also for the majority it continues to symbolize the element that isolates us and locks us in. Somehow we have to conquer the sea and with it the freedom that they have usurped.

11 March 2012

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Frei Betto: Lucidity in Brazil, Disingenuousness in Cuba

[Please see the Translator’s Note below for the context for Mario’s post.]

I’ve been an avid reader of the writings of Frei Betto. Saving theological differences I admire his life and his books. I think there is correspondence between what he says he believes and what he has lived in Brazil. He has always expressed his choice for the lowly and the downtrodden, inspired by Jesus, as has always said, and that’s what I think has characterized his conduct. I respect human beings who live what they claim to believe. Such was the warning of Christ: By their fruits ye shall know them. Betto’s conduct is known and respected by many people across America.

No wonder the exaggerated publicity in the media monopoly in the hands of the Cuban regime to the words* of someone as he pronounced them in the recent nine-hour meeting of intellectuals with Fidel Castro on February 10. No statement of any of those present was as widespread as this. On one hand the well-earned reputation of Betto, and on the other the apparent crisis between the Gospel and the increasingly stark reality of the Cuban system, with the caudillo himself admitting the failure in that other famous interview where he said that the Cuban model does not work not even for us.

This crisis is demonstrated by the many references to theme of religion in the speeches of the gerontocracy of the past year tell me what you boast about and I will tell you what you lack, says the popular proverb. Hence the applause for the words of the Brazilian friar, as biased and out of context, but so necessary in a subject prioritized by a regime that languishes and intuits that if it clings to the religious tablet, especially on the eve of the visit of a pope, life will come to it.

I do not know if Betto in his meditations and prayers has moments of clarity regarding the issue of Cuba, it is not very difficult that this could befall him as the evidence as to pulverize Castro’s propaganda multiplies on every side.

But if it is not so, it Betto suffers from the evil of the worst blindness, that of he who will not see, I presume at least that even my admired Dominican come these words of a village priest immersed in the base of what we call deep Cuba, away from the glamor of the book fairs, and the conferences of Havana, the only Cuba that Betto seems to know.

Fortunately I am in the social place of Cuba that Betto has always chosen in his Brazil. From my place I am a witness and regular victim of the ongoing violations that this regime exercises on the human rights of Cuban citizens he preys on.

I can hear, see and feel the contradiction between what this regime, which Betto still seems to believe it, says and what it practices. I admire the clarity with which Betto noticed these same kinds of contradictions in his Workers Party (PT), a process undoubtedly painful for him, but I wonder how Betto has not been able to admit that the Cuban Revolution is not made up of the best raw materials.

If I had the freedom to travel has Betto — denied for certain people like me, as demonstrated by the recent refusal by the same government that he defends to allow Yoani Sanchez to travel precisely to Brazil (nineteen denials four years) — I wonder how he would take if I were to flatter Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and declare, as he has done with respect to Cuba, that the southern giant is an evangelical work, ignoring the slums that still abound. This is the same thing that Frei Betto has come to do in my country.

It is true that his interview Fidel and religion became a bestseller since the friar spoke to the bearded one of issues which nobody had touched before. I think Betto’s mistake then, was to take at face value, uncritically, all the cynical words of the interviewee.

The evasion to his question of whether some temple had been closed in Cuba during the Cuban revolution, and finally, at the insistence of Betto, was answered with a petulant lie, gave the interviewer the opportunity to discover the impostor in tome, but unfortunately, he allowed him the swindle.

Ignacio Ramonet had a similar opportunity to ask the same respondent about Raul Rivero and the cause of the 75. How Betto was unable to understand that on that other occasion, when Fidel told him that of the Beatitudes he preferred Matthew as this does not contain, like Luke, the curses to the rich oppressors, he was saying that he knows the trial which awaits him for his many crimes and abuses of power.

And, although Betto has a hard time recognizing it, his idol, the interviewee of his bestseller, unfortunately is no exception in this world and he, too, for a long time, was infected abundantly, by the bite of the blowfly.

Translator’s note:

Here is a summary from Cuban State-controlled media regarding the subject of this post (the English version is theirs).

Brazilian Theologian Frei Betto Thanks Fidel Castro for His Struggle

Havana, Cuba, Feb 11.- Brazilian theologian Frei Betto thanked Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro for his life-long struggle on behalf of the poor, at a meeting held in the framework of 21 International Book Fair, underway in Havana.

Betto thanked Fidel “for his patience, his dialogue, his capacity to listen” and said he would pray for the life and heath of the man whose work he dubbed as “evangelical”, because “it fed the hungry, cured the ill, gave work to the unemployed, just as the Holly Scriptures ask”

In the 9-hour long meeting, held in Havana this Friday night, Betto urged the participants to assess their “social insertion” and to generate projects to fight global social injustice.

The Brazilian intellectual joked about Fidel Castro’s stamina when he called the participants to wrap up the meeting since Fidel had to “attend to three delegations, read many news and some books” and added they shouldn’t ask about the miracle (Fidel’s health recovery), since it was a
Cuban government’s “secret.”

The meeting, organized by the “In Defense of Humankind” Network, convened in Havana under the motto “in favour of peace and environment”, and it is inserted among the activities of the 2012 Cuba International Book Fair to run from February 9 through the 19.

March 1 2012

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By K. Barth

When we thought we had it all resolved and the Bolshevik godfather would guarantee life for ever and ever, the beginning of the end came. The old and apparently well-formed USSR fell apart; that happens with giants with feet of clay.

I remember well the day I internalized the collapse of European socialism, personally I was also in process of transition, from high school to college and in the midst of this atmosphere of insecurity and a poor future prognosis, a feeling of uncertainty nearly strangled me; it was the uncertainty of a nation that was facing one of the major economic, political and spiritual crises in its history, although not the first, and much less the last of these crises; Cubans have learned to survive the declines of the totalitarian system that makes decisions like the tide flows, self-contradictory ones, all in its stubborn battle to prevail and not release the power and voice of command.

What would we do without the collaboration of the hammer and sickle? The Special Period, an unforgettable and traumatic step for those of us who live at the bottom, brought this question in red capital letters, but in any case the government — once the magic lamp was broken and the genie who had sustained it in the first decades of its existence disappeared — would have to take certain steps, openings or changes, even if they were not congenial to the Marxist and socialist ideology that we’d been introduced to in mind-blowing speeches full of slogans and mottoes.

Who knew a few years before the collapse that it would be the hard currency of the capitalist enemy that would give us some oxygen and revive us from our economic coma, the serious prognosis of which remains, even today. What’s more, who would have said that we would agree to foreign investment and, in consequence, the creation of a mixed economy, although it would be, and still is, the capitalist side that lifts us up, keeps us on our feet.

It was from this hard time, whose primary specialty was hunger and many shortages, that my antipathy toward the regime began to flourish, a regime whose only obsession was to prevail regardless of any consequence, always justifying its countless mistakes and defeats, the most significant of them, the economic and as our famous Karl Marx knew, after an economic injury a hopelessly maladjusted society arises, with the regrettable loss of moral and spiritual values, because man must feed his body first and then cultivate his spirit.

Despite all the misfortunes that the nineties brought us, in the fullness of my youth, I could still see things around me like the color of roses, and I think the decade of suffering also marked my life with countless emotions, the university, film festivals and huge lines to see the films on display, often trying to outsmart the doorkeepers and the police to enter the film for free because our pockets were completely empty and our desires to see good films huge.

Blackouts on the Malecon, the only way to see the stars from the city, with friends singing, filling the night with the sound of guitars and voices. That’s when I knew the reality of drugs in Cuba, especially in Havana, an issue that it was forbidden to touch on in the official media until it was too obvious; a troubadour friend singing lyrics that said, in one of his verses: “Furrows on the roof, energy restricted…” and then I understood through him that the furrows were of marijuana, and boys and girls my age were smoking to distance themselves from the hard conditions they faced; even today I can hardly explain how hard that reality was.

Although Christian and provincial, almost completely naive about stories, I could live with those young people in Havana filled with concerns about life and eager to escape the misery around them.

I also had friends in the center of the island, my best friend was from Santa Clara, a poet, together we created the rock of poetry where we invited all our troubadour acquaintances, then unknown in both domestic and foreign music.

Our favorite was Fernando Becquer with his wonderful deep voice and his restless figure, we sang, read poetry, drank tea, if only a tepid, watery concoction that could be called so, but nevertheless we were happy and had dreams.

We went every Friday to the home of the culture in Alamar, the rock of The Bicycle, where Pedro Luis Ferrer often sang. We would go despite our hunger and our growling stomachs with just a few coins to return to our student residence in Vedado.

One night after enjoying a banquetazo with Pedro Luis, we walked to the stop to catch a bus; during the special period at any hour or the day you could wait three or four hours, whether it was morning, afternoon, or midnight.

I preferred to walk rather than wait for the buses and the wait was so long that time that we decided to walk from Alamar to Vedado, but we only made it as far as the tunnel under the bay and they stopped us and wouldn’t let us continue with our long nocturnal trek and made us go to a nearby bus stop, exhausted and with a hunger greater than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

From so much walking and so little eating, I had gotten down to only ninety-six pounds and was so underweight and malnourished, and not only my body began to suffer the ravages of that terrible period, but my shoes as well, my white sneakers that I’d bought at one of the many pawn shops the government had opened so people could exchange jewelry, clothes and utensils of gold, silver, platinum and other valuable materials for trinkets, taking advantage of the need that we had to have clothes to wear.

For these tennis shoes and a couple of blouses and some jeans I had exchanged a small gold ring I’d inherited from my father’s childhood, another one, of the same metal and very beautiful, belonging to my mother, and some small earrings, the first I ever owned.

But the shoes were the only ones I had and they had began to come apart at the soles and had two holes, so you can imagine how the soles of my feet hurt walking on the hot asphalt, and I still have the marks of that today, two large calluses on the bottom of each foot.

Those were my tennis shoes for all occasions. One night while listening to the sermon at the Methodist Church in Vedado, I crossed my feet and a sister told me not to because she could see the holes in my shoes. Smiling I told her that I wasn’t ashamed to show my poverty and that God loved me and in very special way. That answer brought me, like a prize, a pair of sandals that the sister got from the congregation, one of the happiest moments of my life.

Between the trips around town in the packed “buses” we called Camels, the terrible food in the student residence, and the scanty garments and shoes to clothe me, the little money I possessed came from my parents who would send me something from time to time and the miserable student stipend.

There were long and stinking journeys by train to see my family during vacations. Unbearable and endless blackouts that prevented me from sleeping at night. And so passed the end of my adolescence and my youth, during the Special Period, the nineties. My relentless pursuit of God and finding His presence in every step of the way, helped me to survive the times of most intense crisis.

When I remember this stage in my life and in the life of my nation, what I remember more than the personal pain is the social pain. We Cubans emerged from this time of total misery terrified. The anecdotes about the lack of soap and hygiene articles and other basic needs persist to this day Soups invented with the few available ingredients, rice, a few beans, plantains or some other vegetable, used to be the only meal of the day in many homes and people would beat their chests because other days would pass with no food at all.

Since then Cubans are so used to sharing with others that we habitually advise friends or relatives when we are coming to visit and arrive loaded down with supplies so as not to create havoc in the family with whom we share them.

One of the most cruel and deepest marks of this black decade was the rafter crisis, the great migratory stampede that came as a result of our material, economic and spiritual drowning. Like every other inhabitant of the island I have my own experiences of this, friends who left and managed to achieve their dream of prosperity and freedom. Others who ended up in the waters of the Straits of Florida.

Tragic stories that are also a scar that won’t stop bleeding. The country is divided, by the force of so many blows that still remain in our saddened land and those who left, whom we never forget, day after day, year after year, so many who departed. But these experiences I will speak of in a future post. Certainly I could write a thousand articles and not come to the end of the terrible nightmare of that night still without end, which can be summarized with a single name: The Cuban Socialist Model.

January 21 2012

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PEOPLE IN MEMORY: The Child and the Egg Bombardment

In vain I search my mind for the name of my favorite friend when we were in preschool and first grade, the passing of the years have totally erased it.  He was the tallest child in the classroom and he sat in the desk that was next to mine, he happily shared with me his lunches and would sharpen my pencil when the tip broke.  We laughed together during recess and we ran around each other while doing three-legged races.  He was probably the best friend I had during those two years of childhood.  The presence of my classmate every morning was an important part of my routine when I was a child and it made me feel fortunate, I would even say happy; in my infantile mind there wasn’t the slightest possibility that one day that child could disappear from my life, in a way that never again, to this day, I would ever see him again.

Sitting on the doorstep of my grandparent’s house who took care of me nights while my parents worked or studied, I saw a large group of people go down the street, shouting phrases and slogans as they went, much of what they said I am unable to remember at all, but the euphoric cries of: down with the worms, the lumpen, and the song of: down with Pin Pon, down with the worm farm, if I remember them correctly in my memory.  They would walk down the streets with lit torches in their hands, frightening me tremendously without understanding what was happening and making me run into my grandparent’s house’s to hide from the strange parade; when the mob went by, I came out, still not understanding precisely the meaning of all that commotion.

Next day I went back to school and was surprised by the absence of my classmate, I remember this day as one of the saddest in my childhood.  Between the events of the night before, the absence of my friend and the commentaries of those around me, I began to put together what was happening and only understood completely when I walked one afternoon by the boy’s house and saw it shut down, with a paper seal guarding the front door, the floor of the entryway littered with broken eggs and the green-painted masonry, splattered.  I drew the sad conclusion that the family had left the country through the Mariel Boat Lift and that they had taken my dear friend away with them, but sadder still was to understand that the wild mob that had scared me so much had been targeting them, hurling all kinds of insults, rejecting them as if instead of human beings they had been vermin and throwing at them, like bombs, the innumerable eggs.

Years later, during the nineties, when the economic situation in Cuba collapsed, especially because of the collapse of the European socialist camp that practically supported our country, during the terrible periodo especial (Special Period) that dealt blows to all of us, we came to cry in the midst of our need for an egg to satisfy hunger in our ruined stomachs and it was later that these repudiated Cubans were welcomed like gods, it would be they who, with their remittances and family assistance and friends, would substitute in part for European Socialism in supporting our sickly economy. I have always wondered if my friend has been among all these Cubans in exile that have returned to the country to visit their loved ones whose memory must keep like a stigma the act of repudiation that el pueblo enardecido (the inflamed people) dealt them, in which people he may have known since he was born participated, the chants and slogans that I am sure in that moment he did not comprehend and the egg bombardment with which they committed aggression against his home.

Things haven’t changed that much, Cuban emigrants have multiplied since the time I reference until today, it being difficult to find a family in Cuba where at least one of its members doesn’t live outside of the country, it’s good that the times when they were repudiated through mass action have gone away.  I just hope that in a not too distant future the acts of repudiation cease against other Cubans who have not decided to leave but rather to stay within our borders to confront the same regime that governs us since ’59, and that the people of Cuba in their totality roundly refuse to participate in these low and immoral acts, showing themselves to be a people that is coherent, dignified, truly respectful of differences, which is the only way possible to march together towards a tomorrow better than that yesterday and than this today all of us Cubans live.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 28 2011

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From Eight on Eight

On the 8th of May, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died in Santa Clara, the victim of a beating received on the 5th day (of the month). He had left with me the blow of the news, and my Christian principles inculcated since a I was boy were put to the test. The time was coming for me to choose between acting like the bishop and the Levite in the biblical parable, with idleness and evasion before violence; or as the repudiated Samaritan who had without a doubt the sensation of acting as God ordains.

Scandalized by the official treatment given to the case on the 8th of June, I presented myself together with Pastor Ricardo Santiago Medina before the Prosecutor General of the Republic demanding an investigation. In the following month, on the 8th of July, a list of signatures was delivered to the same office backing up our solicitation. I understand that these lists keep growing to perform new submissions.

Although the response from this entity was dated the 19th of July on top of an erasure made with white-out and the issue date of 1 August with number 4246, a postmark on the envelope dated the 8th of August as the occasion of its delivery into my hands. It communicated that in the foregoing, the Provincial Prosecutor of Villa Clara would pursue this matter.

As the bureaucratic sliding doors hold no attraction for me, much less if I smell sterile adulation, and as neither date was indicated to attend the provincial entity nor was I advised any limit to my demand, I decided to wait for the arrival of September now that I know excessively the immobility of August by its almost generalized summer vacations. But I must remember that the Provincial Prosecutor advanced my case, and this time with the news of a new eight.

A prosecutor took the duty of traveling directly to my home and with a very pleasant manner left in the hands of my wife — since he didn’t find me — a citation for 9 AM of the 8th of September. The 8th of May, the 8th of June, the 8th of July, the 8th of August, and now the 8th of September. We will see what this new eight brings and we will hope that it might not be another demonstration of what human justice is made of an eight.

A conviction stimulates me in my principles, independently of the result that my meeting produces this 8th of September with the representative of the Provincial Prosecutor of Villa Clara, which evidently will fulfill the orientations of the central structures of the State. My confidence is placed in God, and for that God, such and as is affirmed in Psalm 97:2, justice and judgment are the cement of His throne.

Pbro. Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso

Translated by: JT

September 7 2011

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Divine Providence and the Assassination of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

“Life is worth nothing
if I ignore that the assassin
took a different path
and is preparing another ambush.
– Pablo Milanes

When I retrospectively analyze my pastoral relationship with Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, I discover that neither international forces or media campaigns were interested in him.  Instead, God, who is never neutral before the situations which humans face, was the one who was very interested in this man.  And he was preparing me so that I could be the Samaritan, seeing as they had already tossed him alongside the path.

I met THE STUDENT (the nickname by which he was introduced to me) in March of 2010.  Orlando Zapata Tamayo had just died on February 23rd as consequence of the authorities ignoring his rights as a striker.  Moved by events such as these, which are nothing new in Cuba as seen by antecedent and appalling deaths like that of Pedro Luis Boitel, I found out about the Hunger and Thirst Strike which Guillermo Farinas decided to undergo.  Understanding that God does not let actions such as these go by unnoticed, and while spiritually burning my desire to present myself at the epicenter of all these happenings with the Gospel in order to liberate, and using the divinities left by Jesus on the Sermon of the Mount, I made myself present, equipped with two very powerful weapons–the Bible and prayer.

Juan Wilfredo was a good friend from the intimate circle of Guillermo Farinas.  I can’t recall visiting the hospital and not seeing THE STUDENT there.  During the days in which the survival of Guillermo constituted an authentic miracle, Juan Wilfredo did not move at all from the hospital-neither day nor night.

From the very first moment in which THE STUDENT heard me read the Bible and pray to God so that He may bring salvation onto all the souls involved in the issue as well as reconciliation among all Cubans, (Juan Wilfredo) approached me with his very Cuban spontaneity which he always had when he would give me a hug and when he would express his most profound admiration.  Since then, he treated me with the same fidelity he treated Coco (Farinas), despite the fact that, as opposed to me, he had known Coco for a very long time–ever since childhood in fact–when they would play basketball together in the Palace of the Pioneers and having been his neighbor for nearly 17 years.

Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel

“Thank you, Pastor, for accompanying us and bring us God.  Not everyone does that,” he would flatter me during each of my visits.  I would explain to him that what I was doing did not surge from my own kindness nor from my limited bravery, but instead that it came straight from God, who is the one that puts the desire of wanting and doing into each of his children.

“I am the one who admires you, for your fidelity towards your friend, and because of the fact that, despite your legs being so swollen, you have not moved from this hospital”, I would respond to him, impressed by his authentic friendship, and that human valor which is pointed out in the Bible. “At all times, love your friend.  And he will be like a brother in times of anguish.” (Proverbs 17.1)

Wilfredo was not the only one.  Evidently, that man who languished in the Intensive Care Unit had known how to cultivate true friends who were willing to give their lives for him if it would have been necessary, for this, in fact, was what he was doing for more than fifty prisoners, some of who he did not even know personally.  But God wanted it so that, from his circle of friends, Wilfredo would be the one that I would befriend the most.  I quickly learned about his health ailments: hypertension, gout, diabetes, and dilated myocardium.  It was difficult to believe that a man so corpulent and with such a strong spirit actually suffered from all these things.  The majority of his ailments were scars left from mistreatment he suffered during periods of imprisonment, which (under three different causes) summed up to 3 times, adding up to 12 difficult years in total, which began in 1984 when he was only 18 years old and was barely even a high school student (Which is where he gets the nickname THE STUDENT from).  He was then sentenced to 4 years for the first time under the accusation of “Enemy Propaganda”- a sentence which he served in the section for minors of the Manacas prison.

Mrs. Montiel, mother of Jorge Luis. Hopefully she will not be another mother who will mourn in this story.

I was so moved by his ailments that in addition to my spiritual priority over his life–during this year I was simply his pastor–I did all that I could to get him the medicines he needed.  For this reason he handed me a Clinical History Report which I sent out to fellow pastors abroad so that they could help me.  Despite the fact that Juan Wilfredo was from Santa Clara and that I am from Taguayabon, he visited me a couple of times as a display of profound admiration.  He always told me about his desire to assist the church which I am a pastor of, despite the distance.  But I recommended that he assist other excellent organizations which reside in Santa Clara, which he did every once in a while.  THE STUDENT also established relationships with other Cuban pastors, and even foreign ones.  I am omitting their names because I do not have their permission to mention them, but I do know that they feel just as shocked as me because of this arbitrary death.

On Thursday, July 8th 2010, when the Cuban government had not other option but to publish an article in Granma about the liberation of all the prisoners from the group of the 75, which led to the conclusion of Guillermo Farina’s strike; Wilfredo abandoned that battlefield of peaceful struggle which the hospital had been converted into, and returned to that other place which, with his small town spirit, he felt was his: the Leoncio Vidal Park of Santa Clara.

His status of former political prisoner on the one hand, and as a sick person on the other, forced him to survive in this place, immersed in the black market. As a part of my job as a professor at theological institutions, I travel weekly to Santa Clara. God allowed Wilfredo and I to meet weekly, each Wednesday, which strengthened our personal friendship and facilitated my pastoral relationship with him. But neither of us imagined the situation for which God was preparing us.

The day before the beating, Wednesday May 4, Juan Wilfredo and I had our usual meeting in the park where, as always, he made me aware of his health. Despite his chronic illnesses he was feeling quite well and was eager to fight for survival in the sense that we Cubans understand. His biggest concern was his mother who had recently had surgery for a hip fracture. We prayed for her. Little did we imagine our last meeting the following day and  under embarrassing circumstances I will never forget.

Like every Thursday in recent months, I was accompanying a patient to outpatient treatment at Oncology Hospital of Santa Clara. This hospital facility is located halfway between the center of the city, where the park and the Hospital “Arnaldo Milian” Hospital are, where Wilfredo went shortly after eleven in the morning.

He wanted the Divine providence that I, Juan Wilfredo’s pastor, with whom he had maintained a relationship that significantly affected the last year of his life; I had spoken with him just the day before, and seen that he felt fine; I had a fully activated Twitter account, @maritovoz, with the ability to publish one hundred forty characters from my phone, without direct access to the internet; one day earlier he had put money on my phone which, for more than twenty days had remained at virtually zero, coinciding in time and place with my beaten friend, I felt the need to denounce the abuse in that tweet published at 11:55 AM on that sad May 5.

It was John Wilfred, from the bicycle taxi in which he was traveling, I first made out. As if to confirm that, despite the violence and disorder that yet reign in this world, there is a God interested in our suffering, whether physical or spiritual, he stopped the bicycle taxi to approach me as one who found the very same doors to the sky open.

“These people killed me, Pastor. They beat me with billy clubs. I’m going to the hospital because I can not stand the pain,” Juan Wilfredo said, obviously physically and spiritually broken. It wasn’t the same as the previous day, the difference was a result of that beating. I harbor no doubt about that and am willing to testify before any court willing to offer justice to Juan Wilfredo and recognize my right as an eye-witness; otherwise, what was I doing posting a tweet of that nature the morning of the crime, when I couldn’t anticipate such fateful consequences from the impiety.

The wound in the head of Héctor Duniesky Bermudes Santana

Héctor Duniesky Bermudes Santana

The patient I was accompanying heard the difficult words of THE STUDENT. Despite his own ailments he could sense the urgency and seriousness of what he was telling us and was extremely affected. We had come out into the street at that precise moment but we hadn’t finished our business. I was caught between two human beings who needed me.

“What a situation you’ve put me in, STUDENT! I can’t let you go alone like this, but I can’t abandon this person I’m with who is depending on me,” I told him anxiously.

“Do not worry, Pastor, I didn’t call you to accompany me. I would be grateful if you would alert someone who can go with me, if you can let Coco know,” he reassured me.

“You can count on that Wilfredo, hurry to the hospital and I’ll get Coco know to let your family know right away,” I told him.

The last thing I remember is that bicycle taxi and John Wilfredo moving away from us forever. Then I found in my inquiries that the bicycle taxi driver that was taking him is a member of one of the churches of the city, but so far he hasn’t been able to overcome his fear and is not disposed to offer declarations, like the other witnesses. I have hopes that this terrified brother, and many more, will set aside their fear because, as it says in the scripture, “In love there is not fear, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear exists in peril, and he that fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4.18).”

After this unforgettable encounter with THE STUDENT I turned back to helping the patient I was accompanying, and once re-situated I sent a text message to Guillermos Farinas mobile phone to complete the last favor Wilfredo asked of me. No satisfied with my inevitable decision to leave him to continue alone, I felt a deep need to at least send a tweet broadcasting his complaint. It would not be the first time I had sent a tweet to denounce some abuse. Sadly, many of these tweets have fallen into oblivion without being given the importance due to them. We are so used to this kind of news, that the beatings have come to seem as normal in Cuba as its royal palms. Sadly, someone has to die for the world to react, and this time it was our unforgettable John Wilfredo.

After sending the messages and confident that doctors, many friends and family would look after him, I continued in my duties and routines until eventually I fully confirmed what Juan Wilfredo told me was not a boast or a fake victim. I understood when he told me, “These people have killed me, my Pastor …” John Wilfredo was not speaking metaphorically but horribly literally, but many people did believe or want to help him. The further confirmation that what he said was the truth was his painful death.

Little did I imagine that this trip Juan Wilfredo took to the “Arnaldo Milian” Hospital had been unsuccessful, and on the orders of State Security, when he first arrived at the hospital, attending physician staff quickly dispatched him after just measuring your blood pressure. Hector Bermudez Duniesky Santana, who was stoned on Tuesday, March 10, received a head injury, was one of those who was a witness to the scene and after exchanging after receiving a 10 head injury, was who had to witness the scene, and after confronting the police with a few words he took Juan Wilfredo home in his car. Others also affirm having seen troops of Cuban intelligence in the park at the time of the terrible events, supporting the hypothesis that we are in the presence of a kind of execution.

Perhaps even more criminal that the beating itself is the fact that those who should have fulfilled their medical oath preferred to abide by other orders and did not provide the care Wilfredo urgently needed, he wasn’t even given an ultrasound. When, the following day, THE STUDENT was taken back to the hospital by his family, it was already too late. His belly was full of liquid, the acid from his pancreas, injured by the beating, had leaked out and was eating away at the pancreas itself the liver, and perhaps even his kidneys and bladder.

The assessment made by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet (+535-276-9405) may be helpful in this regard; he has made a very scientific assessment about what usually happens when the pancreas is damages by some external effect, as in this case. The efforts of the ICU were useless, the damage was irreversible, and he ended up–like Orlando Zapata Tamayo at the end–first at the Canaguey Hospital and then at the Military Hospital at Combinado del Este, from where he was finally taken to die at the Almeijeira Hospital.

The death of John Wilfredo had begun in countdown when people in uniform, as Gen. Raul Castro called the police, clubbed him with their billy clubs. And it was accelerated when, desperately knocking on the doors of an institution of public health, he was sent home to die.

Roughly speaking, this is all I have to say about the dramatic death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, whom divine providence has wanted to surround with witnesses like myself. Another issue related to this would be the suicide, that same Mother’s Day Sunday at the tomb where we buried Wilfredo, of the patrol officer Alexis whom the people of Santa Clara associated with the beating of THE STUDENT. According to rumors in the neighborhood, after two suspected visits of State Security to the officer, he ended up shooting himself.

If the widespread rumors were true this is a telling example that the government encourages its people to violence: the family of a peaceful opponent, and that of a policeman, both mourning forever, and I don’t even want to think about these mothers just breathing in the tragedy on a day that should be celebrated.

I will not again, I did in previous post, relate the vileness with which the regime followed the crime with its three desperate declarations in the newspaper Granma, manipulating declarations, masking facts, questioning my words and those of the other thirty witnesses willing to testify, although the government has not publicly mentioned our names. I personally feel disrepected as a citizen.

In rebutting my testimony, I consider they are also questioning me and the religious institutions I represent. If I am a liar I should be judged as such and expelled from the ministries that I would then be unworthy to participate in. I feel aggrieved by the regime and continue to affirm it is responsible for the beating of Juan Wilfredo and I demand an investigation by impartial institutions of international character. I challenge the Cuban regime once again in the name of God and demand they rove which of us is lying.

Local congregations and communities in which I am a pastor, the Association of Western Cuba Baptist Convention that officially recognized me as a pastor, and seminaries where I teach need to know who is the liar here. If I am, then I should be barred from continuing; but if it is the government, as I assert, then they are invalidated to continue governing.

I see protection in believing in a God who gave his blood to every victim, from the ancient story of Cain and Abel, none has gone unnoticed. He greatly loves justice and truth. He promises: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5.6).” On their behalf I am raising my voice for Juan Wilfredo, this death will not go unpunished.

Pastor Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso

Translated by Raul G.

May 30 2011

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The Death of Juan Wilfredo

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

By: Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez

I know that the truth will always prevail over a lie and that light will disperse darkness, leaving all things once dark and hidden to be discovered; thus it shall be with the events associated with the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who his friends and acquaintances called “The Student”. This man fought against the Cuban Regime from the age of 16, suffered three sentences making a total of 12 years in prison for the “terrible crime” of dissenting. His state of health was extremely difficult, although his appearance pointed to a stout and healthy man; but many times appearances deceive us, and inside that bulky body there was a very sick heart, and his organs were suffering the effects of Diabetes Mellitus, gout, and severely high blood pressure that reached levels of 230 maximum and 130 minimum, truly alarming figures.

Juan Wilfredo was a loving man, even so another pastor told us that he shared with us and his relatives, friends, and battle comrades the feelings of pain for the loss of this human being, who always demonstrated being opposed to violence, and whose methods of fighting were peaceful. I remember seeing him once embracing my husband very spontaneously and effusively, calling him ‘Pastor’. So this he also called him that Thursday morning when he was to be transferred only to the hospital to be attended to after the beating, which according to his own testimony, was given to him by agents of order in Vidal Park in the City of Santa Clara, a place that Juan Wilfredo frequented. He moved with great pain and in one sentence to my husband — which didn’t seem to be literal to him — told him “they have killed me”. Sadly, he complied with what was predicted for him, and hours later he died.

Pastor Mario at the funeral.

I have no doubt that the Regime will start to look for arguments to shake the death of Juan Wilfredo from its shoulders, but this death is an error more of the system and of the Cuban Government; and the sum of these errors grows every day. They will try to distort the diagnosis or the cause of death, the scene of the crime will be falsified, the same as the testimony of victim himself and of any other witness who without fear and motivated by conscience might decide to expose what he saw and what really happened. Nor will the cunning arguments be lacking to discredit Juan Wilfredo with wild accusations; perhaps they will attribute him with the qualifier of habitual criminal or common criminal, and diverse accusations of having performed illegalities or what other fallacy. But the fact of the death of this man is out there, it is real, and the world has started to know it.

Light will never be underneath a bushel, but on the candlestick, the light will shine and leave to be discovered all the garbage hidden underneath the carpet of the decadent Cuban ruling system: “Because there is nothing hidden that except to be made visible; nothing is hidden except to come to light” (Gospel of Mark, 4:22). Whichever lie one wants to weave about the death of this sick man and by his condition — almost defenseless — killed by nightsticks in the hands of the revolutionary police, will remain incinerated by the light of the truth, that which always arises even in the best of hiding places. God will see to it because in this case the most perfect justice might be made, and that those guilty for this death shall not go unpunished.

May 10 2011

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Indubitably most of these testimonies will be about the spiritual liberation of many Cubans. I will join them, but I would like to take the opportunity of this brief space to also thank God for the physical liberation of an elevated number of prisoners that before the celebration of the last three campaigns, and mainly for motives of conscience, had no hope of being set free for many years. They, with their first and last names, were intense prayers of petitionthe testimon that were raised to the Lord and in this Campaign of Celebration we can not fail to include the gratitude for the answers to our prayers.

This can be verified simply by reading the press release published in the newspaper Granma on Thursday, July 8, 2010, page 2, to confrim that that which for many was impossible became reality. The Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva, of the Archbishop of Havana, was giving an account of each of the releases in its issues. The Presbyterian Christian Herald Publication No. 4, July-August 2010, on page 5, appealing to Luke 4.8 and Hebrews 13.3, recognized and appreciated these releases and “the end of the hunger strike kept for that cause by Mr. Guillermo Fariñas.”

More than human efforts this was an authentic divine miracle granted by fasting and intense prayer of Cubans of good will. This large group of prisoners and their families have known of our intercessions and are now more willing to listen to spiritual liberation that, above all, Christ offers and many have also been received. To God be the glory!

Pastor Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso

Spanish post
April 18 2011

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It Will Not Be the Editorials

Despite how much the government may try to terrorize me with those outlandish editorials, I will continue to raise my voice for Juan Wilfredo. I will not be known as the pastor or the Levite who quietly walked by a man who was beaten and thrown on the floor. My goal is to be the Samaritan who took care of him. And although I can no longer heal his wounds, his words still resonate within me. On that morning of Thursday, May 5th God made it so that our paths cross in time and space for the last time so that, in the words of Soto himself, I would find out about the severe beating which they had carried out on him with their batons.

It is inadmissible that, in their attempt to dust off this death from their shoulders, the Cuban government has referenced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prisons of Abu Ghraib, and the Guantanamo Naval Base, in addition to thousands of other problems. The fact that crimes are being committed throughout the world does not mean that they are justified in Cuba. The difference is that the death which I came in close contact with was that of my friend Juan Wilfredo. He considered me to be his pastor and he had no reason why to lie to me. And, aside from that, more than his words, his expressions of pain were what really spoke to me, as they also did to thirty other referential witnesses who, just like me, are willing to give declarations, without mentioning those who are not willing to do so because they feel a fear which I will not judge them on.

The pastor speaking his final words at the funeral.  The lady next to the coffin is Madelin, Wilfredo’s niece.

What is most alarming about the situation is that the case of THE STUDENT is not an isolated case. Every week their are reports about beatings and mob attacks. I recall one case in specific where I was denouncing the violent acts being carried out against Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo in the Rio Verde neighborhood of Havana which were occurring at the same time that the 6th Communist Party Congress was taking place. In fact, the report established by the Congress even provides an initiative for carrying out such mob attacks in their second to last paragraph. The only difference in this situation is that Sara Martha did not die from the beatings, at least not from the instant wounds, but no one can tell what the other traumas they inflicted upon her will cause through slower repercussions. If she would have died, the government would have also tried to dust off their responsibility and would have evoked another death by natural causes. And, of course, this is because there is nothing more natural than to die after a beating.

I am not in favor of anyone coming an bombing Havana, but I am also not in favor of anyone beating a man with impunity, as occurred with Juan Wilfredo after they burst his pancreas. In respect to the dispute between Cuba and the United States, I have always been a believer that the problems we Cubans face must be solved by Cubans. And this is one of those problems where, by product of the work and grace of Providence, and not of an international campaign which seeks to fabricate some sort of excuse, I find myself involved. I would only like to point out that the words which I am saying were not spoken after the death of Juan Wilfredo, but instead on that very morning when the beating took place, as can be proven on the internet by anyone who wishes to check my Twitter account: @maritovoz.

I was not the only religious minister to have had a close relationship with Wilfredo. And I’m not talking only about Cuban pastors. THE STUDENT already made up a part of the normal urban landscape of the Vidal Park in Santa Clara. Various distinguished international evangelical ministers who had visited the city also met with him and established a cordial relationship with him. I will not mention their names, for I do not have the permission to do so, but from afar, I am well aware of their state of emotion towards the subject. From abroad, and also from very near, I am receiving various displays of worry and credibility because of my words. I do not feel like I am alone.

I feel that the Cuban government, which is always unwilling to to open its doors to international investigations, could turn to some sort of specialized and neutral commission which would corroborate in this very lamentable situation. But neither the threatening editorials or the condemnations of half the world will strike fear in me, and neither will their attempts to try and prove the innocence of a desperate government. As the popular saying goes, “Tell me what you brag about and I’ll show you what you lack”. With that said, this village priest will continue repeating with all the power vested on me by justice and truth, that the blood of Wilfredo, like that of any other person whose life was snatched from this world by force, cries out for God from down here in this land.

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