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Former Polish President Lech Walesa and Dagoberto Valdés

 

by Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

A year ago I was able to realize one of my lifelong dreams: to visit Poland, a country that remained loyal to its faith and liberty. This past October 20, I had the honor and joy of my second encounter with President Lech Walesa. Just before midday, we arrived at the Warsaw Hotel following a fruitful and cordial meeting with Poland’s vice minister of foreign relations, Mr. Leszek Soczewica.  There we learned that solidarity does not necessarily have to be at odds with an ethical pragmatism.

President Walesa, energetic and affectionate in manner, arrived with quick greetings for everyone, then took his seat to address some urgent words of attention to Cuba and conveying a transcendent message of affection and exhortation toward courageous and responsible action.

Upon concluding his wise words, he expressed his desire to listen to us to better learn first-hand the actual reality of the Cuban people. Various of those present were able to express our concerns for Cuba and we asked him to support the four points of consensus identified and claimed by a growing and significant civil society group in Cuba. President Walesa expressed his support for the four points and encouraged us to strengthen the structure of civil society.

Others also presented their projects and agendas. The wife of Mr. Manuel Cuesta Morúa asked Walesa to support and request the total liberation and exoneration from charges of her husband. She received backing for her cause from the leader of Solidarity and his countrymen. Mr. Walesa expressed, with fervent devotion to Cuba, that he concurred with the four points and also that he desired to travel to Cuba when conditions were right for him to do so.

Each participant was able to have his or her picture taken with President Lech Walesa, grateful for his time and commitment to Cuba.

Director of Convivencia (Coexistence) Project and Magazine

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

30 October 2014

I remember every November 20th for a special reason (besides being the birthday of a dear aunt, and of a friend): on this day the Cuban nation gave birth to one of the preeminent pillars of our founding history, Father Felix Varela.

“The complete patriot,” as Martí called him, knew how to merge science and conscience in order to carry out the difficult art of showing the way toward freedom and social justice.

Pinar del Rio has the only full-body statue of Varela on the island, located on the grounds of the Cathedral. The work, done in marble from San Juan y Martinez by the sculptor José M. Pérez Veliz, shows us Varela in a walking position, looking into the distance, like someone watching over the fate of the city and the nation. In his left hand he holds his greatest work, Letters to Elpidio. About Impiety, Superstition and Fanaticism. He seems to be telling us from its pages: “Dear ones, never be arrogant with the weak or weak with the powerful.”

Twenty years after the founding of the now-defunct Center for Civic and Religious Training (CFCR) in Pinar del Rio, and seven years after the unveiling of this sculpture, we members of the Coexistence team, the successor to the work of the Center and its magazine Stained Glass, made a pilgrimage to the foot of this wonderful work in order to offer of our project of ethical and civic education – an edited volume of Coexistence Issues, containing courses taught by CFCR from 1993 to 2007.

Inspired by the Varelian maxim that “There can be no homeland without virtue,” we offer this book as a continuation and application of the legacy of the first one who taught us to think. It is a gift from Pinar del Rio to the Father of our culture.

Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo (Pinar del Río, 1987).

Diplomate in Microbioology, Manager of Coexistence Issues, Resides and works in Havana.

21 November 2013

By Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

For years I had a dream. Today it has been realized. Poland has always been part of my cultural, religious and freedom identity. Disappearing several times on the map of Europe, “semper fidelis” Poland maintained its nationality thanks to its rooted ancient culture. I learned from Poland, and its greatest son, Blessed Pope John Paul II, that culture is the soul of a people and the soul is immortal. Since then I have dedicated my entire life in Cuba to rescuing, promoting and cultivating the cultural identity of my Fatherland.

Later, I had the inexpressible honor to participate in the preparation for the Polish Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998. And to be one of his colleagues at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Now I have arrived in twenty-first century Poland. I walk the path of his roots. The path of his history. I drink from the sources. Thanks to Lech Walesa Institute.

As luck would have it I arrived in this country on June 4, the anniversary of the elections won by the Solidarity Union. I’ve met its leaders. Heard their testimonies of their lives. Their love for Cuba. On Thursday June 6 I personally met the living legend of the last stage of Polish history, President Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner and and legendary leader of the Solidarity Trade Union.

Just after eleven o’clock he came hurrying to the headquarters of the Institute that bears his name and where he continues his work. He entered the meeting room and sat with confidence. He greeted us. He spoke briefly and quite frankly about his impressions of Poland and Cuba. Respectfully and cordially he gave us the floor to ask him questions or to give him news of the Nation  where he said he wanted to go one day when we have freedom and democracy. Each one expressed his thoughts and his admiration for his work and the history of his nation.

Personally, I enjoyed the meeting. I looked at the lapel of his suit and found there, as always, the blessed image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen and Patroness of Poland. I heard him mention with deep devotion the name of Blessed John Paul II, his role on the long road to freedom in Europe and in his homeland. The support the Polish Pope always gave to Solidarity and its leader. His visits before and after the change.

I asked for the floor to express my respect and before it was turned over to me I heard an unmerited presentation about me and my work from my friend and interpreter Tomasz. I thanked him for the opportunity to meet him and told him I wanted to convey good news about Cuba.

I said that ordinary Cubans had become less fearful and the fabric of Cuban civil society had grown and strengthened and is poised for greater coordination for unity in diversity. He listened to me intently, nodding his head, staring at me. At the end of my speech that lasted less than three minutes, I got up from my seat and offered him a symbol of the workers and peasants of Pinar del Rio: a box of Cohiba cigars.

At the end we quickly took informal photos. He had spent more time than planned with the Cubans. He signed some books and reiterated his love for Cuba and wished us the best for the future. He left as fast as he had come. After the applause was a feeling of hope and confidence in ourselves, that “there is no freedom without solidarity” in which the peaceful path to democracy is not just an option but the only ethically acceptable option.

Over the long weekend, from 8 to 10 June, we went to the places where it all started: Gdanz, an ancient and beautiful city on the Baltic Sea. We visited Westerplate, where World War II began that September 1, 1939. We offered honor and prayers for all those who died in this horror of the twentieth century. On Sunday at early Mass at the Parish of Santa Barbara the Eucharist was offered for them all and for the conscience of mankind with that gigantic phrase on the memorial for the fallen: “No more war”. We could feel the terrible cross of a Poland invaded and bloody.

But there is no cross without resurrection. On Monday, we visited Gdanz Shipyard, door of life, a sanctuary for the rights of workers, temple of nonviolent struggle. Tabernacle of peace with justice, freedom and solidarity. So I wanted to express the famous Polish poet who was asked to write a verse to place forever in the back wall of the monument, but he refused humbly expressing that none of his poems could express what had happened and chose Psalm 29 verse 11 which proclaims: “The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord will bless his people with peace.” In fact, in this sacred place, the Polish people received “the power of the powerless” and not to use it for war and violence but for freedom and solidarity by way of peace is the gift and task.

We began what was for me a pilgrimage and a school, by the monument to the fallen workers in these yards. Over the intense and luminous blue of Gdanz, rise, solemn and serene, the three crosses with three crucified anchors. This symbol of hope and of the deep sea. This symbol of the Passion of Christ in his people. But it does not give the impression of a tragic monument. It looks like a giant flower of life that comes from the assumed cross and redemption. It looks like a lighthouse in the sea of oppression and injustice, that the eventful life of those who row tirelessly toward freedom loses neither its direction nor its way. I got the impression of an immeasurable arm of warning. A warning signal, a prayer which rises for all who decide to fight for their freedom, we take the paths of solidarity and peace.

I could not stop the tears as I joined this silent prayer and looked down to pay tribute to all crucified in their body or in their soul, I realized that the blood and tears of so many men and women had been marked by the artist’s hand, concentric circles on the pavement, widening from the center of the monument, it seemed to reach to each pacifist fighter and every crucified village. I wanted to kneel there and stay awhile open to expansive mysticism. But Magdalena’s voice dissuaded me, the passionate guide who told us that there was a wide balcony reserved for the contemplation of this triple cross, in the huge cultural center and museum that  Solidarity built just below the monument and in line with the famous Door 2 which we approached reverently.

There it remains close to three decades later, the picture of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the portrait of Pope John Paul II that the shipyard workers had placed as shields during strikes where it all started. Then we passed through the vast hall of the Directorate of Health and Safety at Work, where the rounds of dialogue and negotiation were held over the 21 demands that the Solidarity Union demanded from the government that said it had been “the dictatorship of the proletariat” to guarantee the rights of workers.

In the end, we were cordially invited to the opening of Museum-Center of European Solidarity, which will be June 4, 2014.

Our friend David, mystic and musician from the Omni-Zona Franca project of Alamar, gave me a huge red pen with the image of Pope John Paul II, a true copy of the one Lech Walesa used to sign Gdanz Agreements. With it I wrote in the guestbook the incredible religious experience of having stepped on ground sacred to the history of mankind.

I did think of my suffering mother, of the example that my father left me on leaving this world too early, of my three children, my granddaughter who was born on May 20, the day of the independence of Cuba, of my family, of close friends and collaborators from the Civic Center, of that magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), and the current magazine Coexistence. And also forgiving all and each of those who have considered themselves my enemies or opponents with a prayer for the reconciliation of all Cubans.

This land has been inscribed with the letters of Solidarity the eternal message that full and true freedom can only be achieved through the paths of justice and peace.

I left with the deep conviction that it is worth spending a lifetime to inscribe, educate, empower, ethically and civilly, this message in the soul of the people, in the language and the circumstances in which each nation embarks on his own journey toward the civilization of love.

20 June 2013

Jose Marti statue in Pinar del Rio - from Wikicommons

Jose Marti statue in Pinar del Rio – from Wikicommons

By Juan Carlos Fernández Hernández.

José Martí, the man we Cubans call our “Apostle,” was, and let no man doubt it, a man of vast moral, spiritual and cultural heritage. Qualities that have served as the cornerstone for modeling the thinking of being Cuban.

Well, some years ago José Martí Cultural Societies were set up in provinces and municipalities, designed and created to foster among our population, especially young people, the thought and vision of the Master; this was a vain endeavor by Communist Party leaders to somehow fit Marti within Marx, Engels and Lenin.

It sounds crazy but the effort still persists, although it is fair to say that the Communist ideologues don’t know how to insert the liberal ideas of Marti within those of International Communism, and no one swallows their story anyway because the Complete Works of Jose Marti circulate freely on the streets, and in these works Marti dismisses Marx, Communism included.

But back to the idea of the so-called Cultural Society, as an idea it is very good but, it all depends on the intentions… let me explain.

If this was intended to rescue the thinking of the Apostle from shameless oblivion shameful for new generations, for them to have as a reference in their lives, it would be logical that these institutions would have the social role that the name suggests. But, on the contrary, the organization almost unknown to the ordinary person from Pinar del Rio, passing by its headquarters, dilapidated and unpainted, in an old house located in San Juan Street between Yagruma and Martí. What irony, given that this was the home of a respected and wealthy local family. It is in such a shameful state due to the degree of neglect that is inhabited only by the ghosts of its former owners.

I do not think anyone in Pinar del Rio would be happy with the fate of the José Martí Cultural Society, but the complaints can be put to good use, we have to rely on citizen action, so we can together find solutions to rescue something that can be very valuable and appreciated by all.

A public collection in Pinar del Rio would involve a lot of citizens, taking as its theme something that can’t miss: “With all and for the good of all.” It would be healthy, it would empower citizens and they would feel a part of a city repairing one block for this Society, where the authorities are rushing to repair the hard currency store  popularly known as “Bambi.”

I would like to note that material things are important to us, but more important than profit are the healthy and transcendent ideas of the Apostle of all Cubans, who preferred to reach out with the white rose because he could not hate.

by Juan Carlos Fernandez Hernandez. (1965). Pinar del Rio.

Co-leader of the Brotherhood Assistance to Prisoners and their Families Pastoral Care of the Diocese of Pinar del Rio. He is a member of the team of Coexistence.

4 April 2013

Patience and Work

By Livia Galvez Chiú

“Time puts everything in its right place” or maybe peoples’ work does it too?

There are many stories in which in the end everything finds its proper place. Perfect. Fine for some, and for others, not so fine. Everything depends on where we are situated while the “process” occurs and where we find ourselves when we get to the end.

The mistake is thinking that things end up in the right place through a magical process.

Putting to one side things which happen by chance or accidentally, in order for this to come about you have to have people who mess things up and people who try to sort things out. People do what they can, and God, or life, or time, takes care of the remainder. There are people who divide, sow discord, cultivate hatred, feed resentment; there are those who wait patiently or impatiently, like spectators, without getting involved; and those who, moving between patience and impatience, are watched sceptically as they work and make an effort to “put things in their proper place”.

I know people who pass through the three positions. These are, for me, those who learn from getting burnt, grow and mature. It’s difficult, after getting it wrong, to accept you have made a mistake, and then work very hard to try to put things right with the patience necessary to help regain the confidence of others. Extremely difficult, but possible.

Cuba has endured 53 years of disorder. Those who have messed things up appear to have no intention of putting things right. Something has to happen. If the damage has been done, we have to try to put things back in their rightful place, because those people who only want to wait without getting involved have no way out apart from hope.

Cubans have a lot to do. Someone who tries to take one step forward towards liberty cannot go backwards again. There are men and women in Cuba, not all of them Cubans, who can bear witness to that. They are a light on the dark bad road we have to pass through.

Translated by GH

4 April 2013

libropinar.jpg

“Notes for a History of Pinar del Rio” is now, after the hard work of almost five years in the hands of reviewers and a reward to Wilfredo Denie Valdés for the work of his lifetime, a gift for all natives of Pinar del Rio on the island and in the world. Under the label of Coexistence Editions (which adds another three titles: “Draft economic thought for the future of Cuba” -2008, “Cuba: Time to raise its head” -2009, “Anthropological damage and human rights in Cuba” – 2009) appears this new way of building bridges of history, to fill gaps despite the distances, to chase away forgetting with the remembrance of places lost to the mind, but resuscitated in sight with just the contemplation of a broken image in the recesses of our existence. It is the humble contribution of these sons of alligator’s tail, weaving coexistence between the two shores, to intensify the Cuban identity and fulfill the legacy of Blessed John Paul II who, flying over our Diocese on January 21, 1998, said about the wealth of spiritual values, “We are called to preserve and transmit to future generations for the good and progress of the nation.

On Thursday, November 1 at seven in the evening it was presented in conjunction with Casa Bacardi, the Institute for Cubans and Cuban-Americans, University of Miami, by the Pinar del Rio in the Diaspora and by the wall of Coexistence in Pinar del Rio, by those from Pinar del Rio who worked on the design and realization of the book, its author and some guests. In Miami the panel included Dr. Omar Vento as moderator, and panelists Marcos Antonio Ramos, PhD in History and Theology, Wilfredo Cancio Isla, PhD in Information Sciences, and Belisario Pi Lago, poet, essayist and professor from Pinar del Rio , founder of the magazine Coexistence (www.convivenciacuba.es)

Wilfredo Denie, author of such a precious jewel, very excited at 86 years, offered a special thanks to all who made this history of our beloved province see the light. Everyone in Pinar del Rio expressed their thanks and congratulations for a well-deserved and needed work.

Today we have a detailed view of Pinar del Rio that puts in the hands of the reader more than 200 articles, 170 images and 70 tables. A small contribution of the children of the westernmost province of Cuba, an offering to the hometown and an example of how much can be done to rescue our roots, the defense of our identity and the reconstruction of Cuba, from civil society.

By Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo

November 8 2012

1352412017_vidacristOn the evening of November 4th some members of the Coexistence team had the privilege of being invited to participate in the activities celebrating the 50th anniversary of Christian Life.

The occasion brought together many at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where there was a mass presided over by the Cardinal of Havana Jaime Ortega Alamino, his auxiliary bishop Monseñor Juan de Dios, Father Alberto Garcia, director of Catholic Sunday publications and other priests of the Jesuit Congregation.

God wanted the Gospel proclaimed this day, as appropriate for the occasion, with love your neighbor as the central theme. In his homily the Cardinal emphasized that love conquers all, all hopes; he recalled the words of Father Felix Varela when he said “There is no Fatherland without virtue”, highlighting that virtue is in love rather than knowledge and recalling the first Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI making a call to live in faith and love in all its facets.

After the Mass there was a cultural evening that began with a few words about Christian Life followed by the invitation of Father Alberto for other voices to take the floor. I remembered when he shared in Pinar del Rio, more than six years ago on the 10th anniversary of the magazine Vitral and ceded the floor to who was at that time director, and is still the director. of the project and the magazine Coexistence, the engineer Dagoberto Valdés Hernández.

Dagoberto focused his words in an infinite gratitude to this publication, “this little leaf” as everyone there calls it, a symbol of perseverance, of how much can be achieved by the love of Christ, for others and society. He emphasized that Christian Life today is a sign of how far we can get if we truly believe in the power of the small and the usefulness of virtue. He thanked also the older sister of all publications that later emerged within the Church, for this necessary catechism, simple but direct, for all the good both do for the Cuban family. Finally he thanked Padre Alberto, the Editorial Board of Christian Life and God for allowing us to participate in the celebration and for teaching us that “everything has its time, and there is a time for everything under heaven.”

The Editorial Board and staff of the magazine Coexistence are most especially grateful to Father Alberto Garcia and his invitation to the team, congratulate Christian Life and urge them to continue working for the love of Cuba and its Church.

by Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo

November 8 2012

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