My First Encounter with Our Coast Guard

Daisy Valera

Photo: Caridad

Every day the recreational alternatives for youth in Havana are fewer and more expensive.  The cinema and the theater are the only places where the prices haven’t gone up yet. Otherwise, it’s difficult to afford places where relaxation involves anything like listening to jazz, trova, disco or even popular dance music.

The immense majority of those places charge for the admission and drinks in CUCs (hard currency that’s difficult to get for most workers on the island).  Such night spots therefore remain chimerical for youth who are not involved in illegal dealings or don’t have family members abroad.

Therefore, the choice of going out at night to talk with friends on the coast can be a solution.

The sea is definitely beautiful, though at night its darkness is only smelled and heard.  Notwithstanding, they don’t charge admission on the coast and having a little bread and water only costs a few pesos.

I recently went out one night with my friends to the sea, though we forget that this form of having a good time could also present challenges.

You can be kicked off the Cuban coasts and beaches at night by the police or the military.  A group of youth sitting around can easily become suspect of wanting to emigrate from the country illegally.

Perhaps the arguments that “the Cuban sea is pretty at whatever hour” or that “We don’t have enough money to go anywhere else” weren’t going to be enough.

In any case, we decided to run the risk that they wouldn’t buy our explanations and would boot us out.

Upon arriving, those who knew how to swim dived into water while the unfortunate ones —like me, who loves the sea but also fears it— decided to just talk as we had a drink of something with a flavor far removed from the famous Havana Club rum.

The issues we discussed have become common.  They were those that dealt with the economic needs that we Cubans have, the fear of returning to the “Special Period” crisis of the 90s, the battles that almost everyone wages against a bureaucracy ever-present in all possible places, and the yearnings —or not— of leaving our beautiful island.

Amid the heated debate, a jeep approached centering its lights on us.  We had forgotten about the Coast Guard, but there they were.  When they pulled up, they asked all of us for our IDs and checked through our backpacks, one by one.

All this passed without any violence but with extreme seriousness.  No one liked being suspected of wanting to leave for Florida.  We showed them that we were all students and that with a little bread in our bags no one was thinking about catching a speed boat.

This was when the Coast Guard officers, now calmer, apologized to us for the nuisance.  They made jokes of our last names, which were strange in most of the cases, and even gave us a little gas to light the bonfire that had died out during the interrogation.

In conclusion, they behaved kindly, almost perfectly; but one Coast Guard member asked a final question: Would we help them take on anybody trying to emigrate?

A dead silence invaded everything.  The guardians of order expected a quick response, but what they found were faces that, in most of the cases, had sarcastic smiles, or some with sadness.  What saved us was a comment that came from someone in the group noting that: “The thing is…we’re not violent people.”

With that everything was over.  They were almost pleased, and we continued enjoying the sea thinking that the Coast Guard guys weren’t’ so intimidating and poking fun at ourselves over that chilling question.

As young Cubans living here in 2010, the real answer would not have been so simple.  It definitely would not have been: “We will confront them and accuse them of being worms and counter-revolutionaries.”  Many of us youth have stopped looking at our country in terms of black and white.


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.

One thought on “My First Encounter with Our Coast Guard

  • Of course, they do not want people taking the law in their own hands. (for their own safety)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *