Daisy Valera

daisyHAVANA TIMES — Be careful! If you decide to walk down Obispo Street with a camera, hide it – immediately!

It doesn’t matter if you have professional equipment or you’re using a little disposable camera.

You might figure that on a street full of tourists and with police stationed on every block, you wouldn’t have to be so mindful.

But there I was, with a camera smaller than my hand and trying to take a photo, when three women bum-rushed me, screaming that I was working for the Miami mafia (counterrevolutionaries), and then someone slugged me.

There shopping bags were swinging in my face (“How many Cubans can afford to buy anything on Obispo?” I wondered)

They yelled, with their mouths wide open, trying to incite a hail of eggs or tomatoes aimed at my head (fortunately an egg is almost a treasure these days, and a pound of tomatoes is way too expensive).

Nearby, a police officer was dragging away an old beggar by the arm. The officer angrily picked up four dusty newspapers the guy had been trying to sell. Almost tearing them, he stuffed them in a plastic grocery bag.

The old man’s little dog was barking like crazy, while the poor man was trying to let himself fall on the ground.

Nonetheless, the women only focused on what I was trying to do, though they didn’t care that a human being’s rights were being violated in the process.

For them, perhaps the old man was no more than a filthy object that marred the immaculately clean plate-glass windows of Obispo.

The beggar seemed disoriented and sad, but those old prissy bats only had me in their sights.

“What are you going to do with that picture?” they asked.

“Whatever I want to, ma’am,” I responded, though it probably would have been better to have ignored them, but such callousness made me lash out.

Then the shouting and accusations got worse. It was a barrage of pro-government allegations, a scene that in my mind was something that only happened on TV.

No one organized these women to carryout an “act of repudiation.” This was completely spontaneous.

The people surrounding us stood there as spectators, merely watching in silence.

I managed to ease away, with the police still dragging the beggar down an Obispo side street.

I was scared. A mixture of anguish and anger was squeezing my chest.

How many Cubans care more about the international image of the government than the safety and welfare of their fellow citizens?

How many people question the impunity of the Police?

How many are willing to level serious accusations at others without thinking about the consequences?

I don’t have the least idea. This is a certainty that I’m only able to speak about following that situation of helplessness. Perhaps a camera at the right place and the right time can be a weapon against inertia.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

10 thoughts on “A Photo, Police Officers and Beggars

  • I have just returned from Cuba after four weeks documenting the ‘Streets of Havana”. I’m an ‘obvious’ and ‘deliberate’ documentary photographer so when I’m shooting (with two Nikons) the chance of me being questioned or accosted is very high, indeed.

    It did happen though, only once, at the corner of San Martin Street and Ave. de Italia (Galiano), near Obispo Street in Old Havana. There are far fewer tourists around here.

    An intelligence officer pulled me aside and grilled me for an hour. In the end he asked me for CUC5, then let me go. He went on to arrest the guy I had photographed. I also witnessed many Habaneros that were arrested for interacting with tourists, and I photographed that, too.

  • Yes Ryan, that’s the way of a propagandist. And if you do not hold a less radical position than ‘Cuba is Hell on Earth’, you get a nice ‘Castro sycophant’ label.

    Sad indeed.

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