Spanish to English

des Informémonos Biography of Dora María Tellez | Spanish to English Translation


Dora María Tellez was one of the leading figures in Nicaragua’s Sandinista guerrilla army that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Today, after the  Ortega regime arrested her in July 2021  during a  crackdown on all opposition, she is imprisoned up in the notorious  El Chipote penitentiary. In February, 2022, she was sentenced to eight years  for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.” The account below provides a view of a remarkable career.


Dora María Tellez: Do not touch the blue sky*


Acting from vengeance, [President Daniel] Ortega has kept Dora María in isolation and now wants her sent to prison.


Mónica Baltodano



In the huge blue Nicaraguan sky, Dora María is, without a doubt, one of the brightest stars. Her history in the fight against the Somoza dictatorship was relatively brief, but intense, decisive, historic – the opposite of leaders with a long record, but who never did anything relevant in that heroic struggle. That is where this begins, in the mediocrity of Ortega and of [Ortega’s wife, Rosario] Murillo: the hatred, the distrust, the deception that vulgarizes everything and that today is leveling another cowardly blow, trying to judge her, humiliate her, convict her, when Dora María is one of those of the sky that should not be touched.


This is part of her story, told with the help of her account to this writer on Nov. 13, 1999.


Dora María Tellez was born in Matagalpa, on Nov. 21, 1955. After graduating from high school there, she moved to León to study medicine. I remember her in the hallways at Basic Sciences, with her hippie-ish mellow artistic look, and her sharp sense of humor – making fun of everything, especially herself. She didn’t seem to be someone who would commit herself to the struggle. She said it this way:


“I joined the [Sandinista] Front [for National Liberation] and the revolutionary struggle for several reasons: the dictatorship had characteristics that were unbearable for those with a level of awareness. The political despotism, corruption, the repression of any attempt at social organizing and mobilizing, the concentration of political power, the nepotism and tremendous poverty were the reasons why I entered the revolutionary struggle. I started out, really, in the student struggle.”


I am still the same person I was. Before, they use to say, a little bit hippie and now a little bit of a slacker; that is, a little shameless. It was also the fashion at the time. Now you don’t see people in sandals. I think that one problem is taking yourself too seriously. People who take themselves too seriously are usually people you can’t stand, because they don’t have much of a sense of life.


We were a generation more inclined to break with the past, more ready to debate, more ready to challenge, more ready to look for something new…We had an advantage: To have a big ideal, big ideals. I sense that young people today are really skeptical. It is a different generation from the one we belonged to.


She joined  the student struggles in 1983 and in 1974 joined the FSLN. In 1975, she went underground, as part of a group of medical students chosen by the guerrilla organization to get trained in Battlefield Medicine in Cuba.


“It was a really intense course…We also did four months of military training.”


In Cuba, she was part of the Prolonged Peoples’ War faction, led then by José Benito Escobar, because [FSLN co-founder] Carlos Fonseca had just left for Nicaragua. At that time, not much information was released about the split in the FSLN.


In 1976, she accompanied José Benito Escobar on a journey that began and ended in Cuba. They traveled with false passports and identities.


Going through Mexico, she learned of the FSLN split. On that part of the trip, José Benito shared with her the idea of the need to go on the offensive and launch insurrections. So, upon arriving in Honduras, Dora María made contact with the leaders of the tercerista faction** and got involved in training fighters, giving classes on battlefield medicine.


“…I made contact with the leaders of Tercerismo. Daniel Ortega and Victor Tirado, Germán Pomares – El Danto – were training one of the groups that would participate in the October insurrection. And while José Benito was doing his thing, I helped in the training.


“The moment came to return to Cuba. I had to go back. José Benito had made a commitment to the Cubans not to join in the split. José Benito explained to me that the October offensive was a matter of life and death: “If there is no offensive now against the dictatorship, Sandinismo dies and the dictatorship will consolidate itself for life,” he told me. Taking that into account, I begged him to let me stay, because in the group of about 40 men that was going into combat, there was no medic. I insisted and insisted until José Benito accepted…”


On October 12, 1988, she was part of the Northern Front Column, whose mission was to attack National Guard commandos in Ocotal. The operation failed because they first ran into a patrol, which alerted the garrisoned forces, who came as reinforcements. The guerrillas set an ambush at San Fabián, surprising the National Guard, which suffered 12 casualties.


The Column was then split into two groups: one set up a camp on the Honduran border; the other, led by Germán Pomares, took action against National Guard commandos in several Somocista properties and towns.


Dora María took part in these actions. On successive days, the guerrillas launched attacks in Mosonte, October 15; San Fernando, October 25; Hacienda El Volcán, November 11; Mi Illusión, November 20; El Amparo, November 30; the taking of San Clara, December 5; the taking of Las Manos border post; and the successful ambush on the Lisupo Bridge, led by Joaquín Cuadra, December 19. They also conducted armed propaganda in Las Camelias and El Limón haciendas, January 8, 1978. During these months, Dora María lived as a guerrilla with the Germán Pomares group in the Dipilto and Jalapa mountain range.


In March, 1978, in a reorganization by the Tercerista faction, Dora María was sent to strengthen the Internal Front. She worked for a whle in Managua as part of the Ideological Training Commission…


In August, 1978, she was the political leader of the Rigoberto López Pérez company that took over the National Palace. As political leader, Comandante Dos, she took on the negotations that led to the freeing of 60 political prisoners held by the Somocista dictatorship.




After the revolutionary victory, Dora María was awarded the title of Comandante Guerrillera. In the ‘80s, she was Health Minister, and coordinator of the Departmental leadership of Managua – without a doubt, one of the Revolution’s outstanding leaders.


In 1990, she was elected to parliament as a member of the FSLN. In 1995, she quit the party and organized the Sandinista Renovation Movement Party (MRS), serving as its president for several years.


MRS members have fought within the FSLN to push it, ideologically speaking, toward a center-left position, somewhat on the model of European “third-way” parties. Later, she would tell the magazine Envío: “The reference point in this Third Way is programmatic, not ideological…The people understand the Third Way because of its different message, one of balance, of leaving polarization behind.” She openly condemned the opposition methods that Ortega employed against Violeta Chamorro’s government – street fights, barricades and violence – and demanded more democracy in the FSLN ranks.


With the FSLN now under Ortega’s control, the party’s response was a hate campaign to discredit Dora María, closing off the possibility of internal debate.


In 2008, Dora María went on hunger strike after the arbitrary and illegal cancelation of the MRS Party’s legal status. Following that, the party, in an alliance with Rescuing Sandinismo, obtained 8 percent of the vote. The strike failed, but the mobilization of its voters, and the support it built, showed that its backing had increased. This was unacceptable to Ortega’s doctrine, now focused on holding onto power at any cost. Authoritarianism rose to a crescendo, finally showing the regime clearly as a dictatorship.




In 1999, when I interviewed her on the radio program, Entre Todos [Among All of Us], I asked for her final thoughts. What she said remains entirely relevant:


“I have some thoughts about young people. The country is entering conditions that are different from those that prevailed when we were young. We have a country with poverty at 85 percent; nearly half the population earning $1.50 a day. There are 800,000 to one million Nicaraguans working outside the country. We are in a country whose main characteristic is denying opportunities to young people. That is, what remains for a young person who has completed elementary school if he can’t find work? He finds no place for himself, so he joins criminal networks or loses all hope.


“That is exactly what I want to refer to: We have contributed, or tried, to put the country on a different path than the one it is on now. Tragically, the course of politics is like a routlette wheel, which goes backward toward an attempt to mount a dictatorship. And, economically speaking, poverty has now reached an intolerable level.


“The political model we now have, and what is being assembled via constitutional changes and the Election Law, is a political model of concentrating power in the hands of the president of the Republic, who controls the judicial system, who controls everything. The concentration of power leads to intolerance, to political repression, and discourages citizen participation. I think that young people and we ourselves must be demanding, not levels of citizen participation, but citizen decision-making on the country’s major issues, not just in terms of representation, but directly.


“This is the same situation we found years ago – a situation that called out to young people. Young people face a basic quandary and have to act now. They have to mobilize, defend democratic space. Because, if not, we’re going to have to resort to a difficult course of action. When democratic space is closed, the path of armed struggle reopens. And I think that we, who joined in the armed struggle, the last thing we want is for it to start again. Because war cuts off the normal life  of young people – the youthful life that we didn’t get to enjoy – or diverts it into another channel.”


Freedom for the 170 political prisoners!


Feb. 3, 2022




*The line is from a beloved poem by Ruben Darío, about a princess who dares to pluck a star from the sky


** The terceristas argued for a gradual path to socialism in Nicaragua, and for alliances with bourgeois groups.



Spanish to English

Colombia Elections 2022, A Political Review – (Spanish to English Translation)

Translation by Peter Katel from the original Spanish language article by Ibsen Martínez, which can be found online at –

Ibsen Martínez is a Venezuelan novelist, television screenplay writer, playwright and essayist. He lives in exile in Bogotá.

Where did Colombia’s center go?

The Colombian elections of last June 19 strengthened the extremes of the political spectrum. But the Colombian center, today temporarily scattered, can stand on its own and grow.

By Ibsen Martínez

An academic topic that entered journalism around the end of the last century held that one of Colombia’s singularities was a so-called “immunity to populism.”

The two-headed hegemony of liberals and conservatives lasted so long that it seemed enough to look at a list of presidents from, say, the mid-19th to the early 21st centuries to become convinced that the country was a rare species.

Spanish to English

The Cuban Protests Resonate In Venezuela – Spanish to English Translation

The Cuban protests resonate in Venezuela
By Ibsen Martínez

Ibsen Martínez is a Venezuelan novelist, television screenplay writer, playwright and essayist. He lives in exile in Bogotá. This piece originally appeared in the New York Times in Spanish with Spanish-English translation by Peter Katel.

Leading Venezuelan observers believe that the sudden and dramatic wave of protests that shook Cuba July 11 will hit the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, heralding imminent good news for my country. These observers see the Cuban regime as heading unstoppably toward collapse. The thinking goes that this will produce shock waves that shortly will make the return of Venezuelan democracy inevitable. Perhaps I am too gloomy, but I think that this assumes too much.

Can one expect the Cuban events to directly affect Venezuelan politics? And is there anything that the Venezuelan opposition can do to hasten the end of oppression of Venezuelans and Cubans by the  allied regimes of Caracas and Havana?

To answer these questions, we have to understand the nature and the scope of the ties that have moved both countries ever closer economically, politically and militarily over the past 20 years.

In 2012, the stellar year of the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement that Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, both now departed, signed in October, 2000, Venezuelan subsidies and direct investment in Cuba reached $16 billion, nearly 12 percent of the island’s GDP.

The sudden drop in crude oil prices in 2015, the corruption and ineptitude of the Maduro regime and the global ravages of the pandemic have cut these amounts almost in half.

The island’s economy has been hit hard by the Venezuelan crisis and by the pandemic’s negative effects on tourism. But although President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s planners are now looking to Russia and China, they still haven’t found a trade partner who compares with chavista-era Venezuela.

For Maduro, meanwhile, military cooperation agreements with Cuba have never been so important.

These agreements, signed in 2008, grant Cuba maximum political control of the Boliviarian Armed Forces. They focus on counterintelligence, on advising and training military personnel, on the presence of Cuban officers in Venezuelan barracks, and on intelligence agencies’ surveillance of Venezuelan military brass.

The Venezuelan dictator owes the unshakeable support of Venezuela’s military largely to Cuba. This is no small thing. Keep in mind that for nearly 20 years, and on more than one occasion, major opposition leaders have wagered unsuccessfully that mass citizen protest would lead to a military revolt.

All of the above explains that, despite the oil price crash and production drop, plus Venezuela’s deep economic crisis and humanitarian emergency, the flow of Venezuelan oil to Cuba has continued, even in defiance of U.S. sanctions in effect since 2019.

The Cuban political crisis hits Venezuela at a moment when it is torn apart by the gravest immigration crisis our continent has ever seen. At the same time, the country is reeling under the pandemic, and the negligence of a criminal regime. Poverty afflicts the country even as its people are terrorized by criminals and the police.

Added to these woes, most Venezuelans, ravaged by shortages and the pandemic, look upon politicians with indifference, if not loathing.

Most of the opposition leadership seems bewildered, captivated by the notion of regional elections. These have been called – without reasonable conditions for voting – by a regime that violates human and political rights. In addition, Venezuelan oppositionists have a tragic habit of  overrating international influence.

Looking at Cuba, the collapse of the Havana regime does not seem to lie in the immediate future, to be followed by the inevitable fall of Chavismo-Madurismo. More likely, repression and human rights violations in both countries will worsen – and even be coordinated binationally.

Even assuming that citizen protests lead in the coming months to political and economic changes in Cuba, much will depend on time and on the personal qualities of whoever takes the lead of the admirably courageous Cubans.

As Cuban historian Rafael Rojas has tweeted, the shape of future events also depends on the civic spirit of Cuban protesters, and on U.S. policy. The latter, fortunately, is taking the form of individual sanctions and on measures to facilitate internet access.

Sergio Ramírez noted recently, writing of his Nicaragua, that today’s opposing forces in our Americas are none other than dictatorship and democracy. Very tough times are coming our way. The Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan dictatorships are ready to go for broke.

Maduro and Díaz-Canel have a lot at stake. As allies in tyranny, they won’t hold back. The future consequences for our two nations – and not just in the short term – are not hard to imagine.

The Cuban moment demands that Venezuelan politicians assume an attitude of realistic seriousness, no longer simply condemning the regime’s henchmen and declaring solidarity with protesters. They must do everything within their power to lend a hand.

The interim government led by Juan Guaidó, which is recognized by dozens of nations, could make active diplomacy a bigger priority on its diplomatic agenda. This would take the form of high-level activism to support human and political rights on the island, thereby increasing world governments’ pressure on Havana.

We Venezuelans are anxiously watching the shift, unthinkable only weeks ago, that Cubans’ courage has forced on their tragic circumstances. This among people who, in the videos, look so much like ours.

Regaining transparent elections and full democracy in Venezuela will, in the long run, win them for Cuba.

Not the other way around.


Spanish to English

Nicaraguan Politics, an Abbreviated History

The Stench Of A Decayed Corpse

By Sergio Ramírez Mercado

[A writer and journalist, Ramírez was a prominent supporter of the Sandinista revolution; he served as vice president in the Sandinista government in 1985-1990, before breaking with the Sandinista Front in 1994].

Unauthorized Spanish to English translation by Peter Katel

In the history of Nicaragua, freely elected leaders are the exception, and caudillos who strive

for eternal power are the rule. The liberal revolution of Gen. José Santos Zelaya in 1893 gave rise to the most ambitious constitution that the country has ever seen, so much so that it was called “the freest.” But it was in effect for only one week. Zelaya ordered it suspended, because one of its clauses barred re-election. After 10 years in power, he was toppled in a revolt backed by the United States. President Porfirio Díaz [of Mexico] sent a naval corvette to take him safely to the port of Salina Cruz.

Anastasio Somoza, who granted himself the rank of general without having fought a single battle, led a coup d’état in 1936 against his own uncle, President Juan Bautista Sacasa, and fashioned his own constitution to permit him to stay in power for two decades. Then, in 1956, when he was celebrating the proclamation of his candidacy, ready for one more re-election, a poet named Rigoberto López Pérez shot him to death. Somoza’s two sons, Luis and Anastasio, succeeded him in office, but the latter was overthrown by the victorious revolution of 1979.

Like his father he was assassinated, in his case while exiled in Paraguay.

Paradoxically, the Sandinista Front, which won power won by force of arms, turned it over in 1990 to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, after she won a free election over then-president Daniel Ortega, who was running to succeed himself. But Ortega soon renounced the revolutionary leadership’s decision, which could have set country on a new course.

He went on to lose two more elections. But Ortega won once again in 2006, thanks to a pact with liberal caudillo Arnoldo Alemán, who was convicted for money laundering and corruption while in office. The pact had conveniently lowered the amount of votes needed for victory, allowing Ortega to win in the first round. And this time, he swore to not repeat the error of accepting another electoral defeat. And here we are.

I recount this history of caudillos willing to fight democracy to the death to help explain the wave of repression overtaking Nicaragua. Practically all possible candidates who might defeat Ortega, as well as prominent political leaders, journalists and businesspeople, are held in solitary confinement, and election rules are twisted into total worthlessness. Elections set for November will be nothing but a tragic farce. Any opposing candidacies will be fake, with what Nicaraguans call strawman candidates.

The dictatorial model comes out of a past which keeps repeating itself. Ortega is the caudillo who considers himself anointed, hence eternal. So he persecutes and jails opponents, even when they are his own former comrades in arms, such as Comandante Dora María Téllez, the heroine of the taking of the National Palace in 1978, and Comandante Hugo Torres, who freed Ortega from prison in a guerrilla action.

In 2018, the people – led by youth – rose up, unarmed, to demand an end to this tragic cycle.

Police loyal to Ortega, along with paramilitary forces, responded with a wave of killings. Today,
taking to the streets waving the Nicaraguan flag carries a prison sentence. During the election
campaign, people will once again march under their banners, as in any other part of the world.
A regime of terror, immobility and silence finds this intolerable.
In a normal election campaign, no news organization should be seized, or silenced, as is the
case in Nicaragua, where fifty percent of independent journalists have been forced into exile,
and others are imprisoned. The journalism carried out on social media is a journalism of the

Today, in Latin America and in Spain, a Left that went obsolete in the Cold War sees Ortega as
representing revolutionary values – those that in the past corresponded to ideals. There is no idealistic cause left in Nicaragua. Repressive laws that the State uses to persecute and imprison as traitors all opponents of Ortega’s re-election, could just as easily have been promulgated by [18th century Paraguayan dictator] Doctor Francia or by Generalissimo Franco. All that remains
of the revolution is the stench of a decayed corpse.

The choice in Nicaragua is not between left and right, but between dictatorship and democracy.
This is what the governments of the hemisphere have to understand. Democracy is not a matter of local color, but something that concerns us all.

Spanish to English

Línea De Fuego – Arturo Pérez-Reverte – Spanish to English Translation

[Línea De Fuego – roughly, “Front Line” – is set during the last major battle of the Spanish Civil War, told through characters from both sides. The battle, which lasted from July to November, 1938 along the Ebro River, was real. But the characters are invented, as is the precise site where they are fighting].

Unauthorized Translation by Peter Katel

Spanish to English

Como Polvo En El Viento – Leonardo Padura – Spanish to English Translation (unauthorized)

(“Like dust in the wind.” The title comes from the 1977 song by Kansas. One of Padura’s non-mystery novels, the novel tells the story of a group of friends, all educated professionals, who come of age in 1980s Cuba. Marcos is one of the group’s next generation).

Spanish to English

Cuban Repression Heating Up – Spanish to English Translation of Rafael Rojas

Cuban Repression Heating Up

Rafael Rojas

[Cuban historian and literary critic living in Mexico]

Unauthorized translation –


The major achievement of the long day of Nov. 27 was not the promise to stop cracking down on dissent – something that a government like Cuba’s will never keep – but to have forced the authorities to negotiate. That is something you can’t take away from the San Isidro strikers. 

Repression temperature rises like a fever in a pandemic. It is a repression at once systematic, intellectually dishonest,  and cellular – the first thing that the political police do upon arresting an artist is to seize and ruin his mobile phone. The repression tries to become routine and normal, but cannot achieve this. A growing number of events such as the arrests of artist Tania Bruguera, and the harassment of the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR in Spanish), as well as the recent jailing of artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, after a flawed trial, are shaking things up.

The San Isidro Movement is a collective of young visual artists, poets, musicians and intellectuals, with headquarters in one of Havana’s poorest neighborhoods. In early November, the police burst into the home of one of its members, rapper Denis Solís. After an exchange of insults, the young man was arrested, given a summary trial and sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt of authority. Members of the collective mobilized, went to police stations, and, instead of answers, got arbitrary arrests. They held vigils in the city’s parks that were broken up by force.

With alternatives unavailable, they decided to rally at the movement’s headquarters on Damas street, and to peacefully demand, via social media, the freeing of their fellow activist. State Security and the island’s political and cultural bureaucracy saw this as subversive. They tried in several ways to make the movement’s members leave their headquarters. They broke down the door on several occasions, launched physical and verbal attacks, and contaminated the water tank. At that point, the activists declared themselves on hunger strike, refusing to drink as well. Some members stayed with them to help out.

When news of the strike reached social media and a handful of independent and international media, the power elite began responding. As always, they resorted to personally discrediting their targets. Mariela Castro, Raúl’s daughter and director of the National Center for Sex Education, tweeted that the San Isidro young people were “vulgar, tasteless and awful.” Abel Prieto, ex-minister of culture, ex-presidential advisor and now president of Casa de las Américas, said they were “marginal” and “criminals.” In any Latin American country, these adjectives, aimed at young black, mestizo and poor people, like the San Isidro activists, would reflect governmental class bias and racism.

The major official media – Granma, Cubadebate and the social media accounts of government propagandists – added to this discrediting the well-worn plotline of “agents of imperialism.” According to the familiar script, the young people – who according to official rhetoric were “poor” and “marginal” – had received major financial contributions from the U.S. government, had ties to “terrorists” in Miami and the CIA; they backed the re-election of Donald Trump. Although one or another might have shown sympathy for Trump, that was not the identity of this heterogeneous group.

Another element of the official campaign against San Isidro was insistence that the hunger strike was fake. Images showing strikers, such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Osorbo, weakening, were convincing. But official media insinuated that strikers were eating and drinking. In a regime like Cuba’s, which exists on the symbolic legitimacy of an epically heroic revolution, opposition or dissidence cannot be epic or heroic. The insistence of official media that the strike is phony clashes with the police drive to clear the San Isidro headquarters.

Authorities’ aim has always been to break up and silence the public voice of this independent collective. When police blocked off the street, prohibiting access to family and friends, the justification was that these were public health measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The arrival at Damas 955 of writer and journalist Carlos Álvarez, editor of El Estornudo, one of the few publications, along with Rialta, El Toque, Cibercuba and others, to provide precise and accurate coverage of the conflict from its start, served as a poorly disguised pretext to take the headquarters as a public health measure.

Álvarez, author of two books that are essential to understanding today’s Cuba – La tribu (2017) and Los caídos (2019), both published by Sexto Piso – arrived from New York, and took a coronavirus test at the Havana airport. Shortly before the raid on Damas 955, three police officers came to him to tell him that the test came out “doubtful” or “altered” and that he would have to take a new one. When the writer told them that the test could be administered at the San Isidro headquarters, they told him that, no, it would have to be administered at a clinic.

After the strikers were evicted and arrested, most were taken to their homes. However, Otero Alcántara is still detained, and art curator Anamely Ramos, a student at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, was arrested the next day. The San Isidro Movement headquarters was shut down and the government issued in definitive form its public health justification: the violent intervention occurred because Álvarez’ arrival violated health protocols and risked spreading of the virus.

This episode of repression in Cuba could be added to a list of authoritarian uses of the coronavirus in Latin America and the Caribbean. The aim is to restrict civil and political rights. But it is is important not to get analytically caught up in matters of the moment. Cellular and physical repression, especially against the new generation of independent Cuban artists, filmmakers, writers, journalists and intellectuals does not respond, strictly speaking, to the pandemic, to the change of administration in the United States or to the uses to which it might be put by American political figures like Mike Pompeo or [Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs] Michael Kozak.

As could be seen for hours and hours last Friday, November 27, outside the Ministry of Culture, these young people who showed so much civic spirit, are not easily manipulated by the figures who have exerted hegemonic control of the Cuban conflict for decades. They weren’t marionettes, as the official press and its most extremist rivals obsessively insisted. Nor are they unaware that a list of concrete demands does not eliminate the possibility of greater change in the future.

Over the past few days in Cuba we have seen the systematic repression by a State that aspires to complete control of a generation – one that has expressed in various ways its rejection of laws that limit freedom of expression and association. That is, nothing more and nothing less than a widespread rejection of Decrees 349, which defines who is and who isn’t an artist; and 373, which regulates independent filmmaking. These rejections basically imply deep disagreement with obstruction of human rights on the island by the new Constitution and Criminal Code.

The same media that spent weeks justifying the repression of the San Isidro Movement was silent on the protest of more than 12 hours in front of the Ministry of Culture. The major achievement of that long Friday was not the promise to end repression – a promise that a State like Cuba’s will never keep – but to have forced authorities to negotiate. Whatever bureaucrats and propagandists may say, no one can take that away from the San Isidro strikers.

Spanish to English

The Transparency Of Time by Leonardo Padura – Spanish to English Translation

Invisible Havana


From, “The Transparency of Time,” Leonardo Padura, 2018. Unauthorized translation.


[Mario Conde is the lead character in a series of novels by Padura. Conde, a frustrated writer, started as a policeman, then entered the second-hand book trade. Rabbit and Candito are lifelong friends. La transparencia del tiempo is the 12th of Padura’s novels, some of which do not feature Conde].


After they had gotten barely 100 meters from the street, which had once been paved, the outsiders understood that they were moving into another universe, as if they had gone through a black hole into a different time-space dimension. The world of invisible people, Conde dubbed the territory they were entering. The alleys of trodden earth, steadily narrower and more tortuous, irregularly laid out, were molded by precariousness and improvisation. On each side of the pathways, covered with with ridges that made it impossible for any vehicle but a military tank to pass, were dwellings whose physical structures decayed as they followed some of the many rough tracks that split off from what appeared to be the main artery of the settlement.

Going deeper into the slum, they saw some masonry, cement-block houses, but improvisation and poverty soon took over everywhere: Rooms built with a few blocks and bricks, others with termite-ridden planks, some with zinc sheeting in various states of deterioration, and even pieces of cardboard in others. The places seemed to be covered with the most dissimilar materials for protection from rain and sun: roofs of zinc or wood, others covered with waterproof paper, to the precarious extreme of coverings with tarpaper or pieces of lighweight plastic affixed to a chunk of stone or an iron bar. The laws of urban development, of architecture and even of gravity were unknown in this hive of miserable lodgings, which made up a chaotic and suffocating sprawl.

Conde, who walked through Havana every day in search of books to buy, had thought he knew the most run-down places in the city, the old proleterian neighborhoods, always poor, like the very place where he’d been born and still lived. In other circumstances, he had had occasion to visit a “settlement” of eastern immigrants close to his own area, an informal bunch of houses built in an empty lot between two urban neighborhoods. There, he had seen overcrowded houses that shared walls, built with no order or plan, with walls that had never been plastered. But they fit the definition of houses. By his lights, that could be called poverty. Now he was witnessing jubilant misery, underground Havana: the catacombs of the catacombs.

“What the hell is this, Conde?,” Rabbit asked him, looking from one side to the other as if he didn’t believe what his eyes were showing him.

“Underground life,” Conde said, attempting to define the environment surrounding them. “This is another life. But it is also real.”

“This is life?,” Rabbit said, doubtfully.

“Yes, Rabbit, though it’s supposed to be invisible,” Conde said. “I’ve told you: There’s always someone who’s worse-off…Worse off than me, for instance.”

“And how is that there are people who are so fucked? Here, in this country? By now?,” Conejo asked, alarmed. He continued: “This looks like Haiti, Africa…or hell. And remember, I was born in a crappy place, poverty-stricken, but, fuck, compared to this, my house was the Taj Mahal, man.”

“You don’t know what poverty is, Rabbit,” Candito finally said, moved to emerge from his silent observing.

The outsiders would soon find out that people had begun to settle the place in the 1990s, when the Crisis began. A group from the country’s East, looking for any possible solution to their misery, had emigrated to the capital. The explorers had hoped to find a way to survive, and, out of necessity and spontaneous generation, had happened upon this unpopulated area, a sort of no man’s land in which, stubbornly, they established themselves, with the stony obstinacy that grew out of their situation: This was life or death. With cardboard, pieces of wood and zinc sheeting, the pariahs had built the first dwellings and dug the first pits for their bodily wastes.

Then began a silent battle for survival of which most of the country’s inhabitants were never informed, because there was no news about it, as if the island’s Palestinians* didn’t even rate that much. Given that this was an illegal ocupation of State land, the various agencies involved, including the Police, had started to to harass the occupants, trying to drive them out.

But every attempt at eviction was followed by the return of the displaced, accompanied each time by new, desperate familiies who kept coming from all parts of the country to join the founders. Overnight, they would rebuild their rustic houses where the old ones had been torn down, and they would build new ones on nearby lots, and there they would plant their flag, like the conquistadores they were.

Responding to repeated attempts at expulsion, the residents of the unnamed slum started to raise barricades of necessity against offensives by the forces of legality. Cordons of children and women – if they were pregnant so much the better – were designed to block police cars, as well as the pitiless bullozers manned by squads of builders who had become demolishers.

The fight went on for several years, maintained by the absence of other options for people determined to survive, without water and sewer service, electricity, and even without the little book that guaranteed the nation’s citizens a subsistence diet at subsidized prices.

It was a fight in which the people under assault had nowhere to retreat. So they stayed determined and strong. Thanks to all that perseverance and desperation, they won a pyrrhic victory: Up against the impossibility of offering them any alternative that included conditions of even minimal dignity, someone had decided to look the other way and let them maintain their insecure existence, on condition that they remain invisible.


*Cuban slang for people who come to Havana from Cuba’s eastern provinces.

Spanish to English

Tenebra, Daniel Krauze, 2020 – Spanish-English Translation Excerpt

[The novel is set mainly in Mexico City toward the end of the 2012-2018 presidential term of Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI. The narrator of the following scene, and the character named Landa, are political operators for a powerful PRI senator. Espinoza is the senator’s office accountant].

Spanish to English

Spanish – English Translation: Joaquín Villalobos on Cuba in Nexos

Cuba: a one-time insider’s “heresy”

Joaquín Villalobos was a top commander of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front during the civil war in El Salvador. He is now a consultant on security and conflict resolution. The following are excerpts from a two-part essay in the July and August issues of Nexos, a Mexican journal.