My First Express Detention (Part II)

Erasmo Calzadilla

Havana Patrol Car. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — In my last post, I talked about “express detentions.” In this one I’ll talk about my own first experience with this phenomenon.

We had all gone through the difficult time of August 1994, and I had just finished my military service a few days earlier. Although the streets were blazing hot (with stampedes of rafters into the sea, a mini-uprising on the Malecon boardwalk, blackouts, assaults, pervasive hunger), it was essential for me to have a little fun, or to at least mentally escape all that.

One night I went out with my friends to just hang out. Everything went fine and we didn’t run into any problems. But when it came time to go back home, there weren’t any buses around, so we decided to sit on a curb talking crap until something showed up.

And something did show up – a police van. The officers then charged me with having a beat-up ID.

These police were out on their own that night, some of them drunk, others out of uniform and all of them having a good time. Why not, they were human just like us.

They took a motorcycle away from one old man started chasing around the Mantilla barrio. Occasionally they would make one of the people under arrest get out of the van to push them around a little, but it wasn’t anything serious.

That’s when things turned ugly.

They began to hear distant cries of “Down with Fidel!” and “The end is near.” This wasn’t a typical dissident demonstration as such (with CNN journalists, cameras etc.); rather, this is what excess drinking almost naturally led to back then.

The police then ran after them and caught one, who got not only his own beating, but one for each of the others who got away. When they had enough, they threw him on the floor of the truck, where he laid curled up and moaning. Even still, every time now and then a law enforcement officer would come up and hit him again just for the hell of it.

I was horrified.

At around 2:00 a.m. they took all of us to the Parraga police station in handcuffs and everything. While we were being taken in, a policeman who didn’t come in the van punched the alleged dissident in the stomach. The guy, who was already tottering, fell to the ground and they dragged him inside. I never saw him again.

Once inside, they had us sit on benches and an official from the Ministry of the Interior gave us the “welcome speech.”

With the tone of someone advising an old friend, the bastard was trying to convince us to leave the island on rafts. “You guys are assholes? That’s why you’re having problems? You don’t have any future here. The only thing you can look forward to here is jail time.”

Even today, I wonder what could have been the motivation of that scumbag. Was he trying to clean up the neighborhood of screw-ups? Or was he following some dark and sinister order from his superiors?

They finally searched our “possessions” and put us in a narrow stinking cell with no beds or light. It was full of young guys, overwhelmingly black.

“Now it’s going to start,” I thought to myself. “Here is where we’re going to have problems. I can’t let anybody fool around with me.”
I simply thought about dematerializing through the bars. Later I found an empty corner and dozed off there until dawn.

What did I find at dawn? Actually it was a pretty cool and relaxed environment. The guys were cracking jokes and stories nonstop… No one said anything to me and I didn’t open my mouth, but I was feeling like I had radar.

I didn’t want to miss out on any of that festival of jokes, gruesome stories and personal anecdotes told with that energetic dancing-around jargon that’s so typical of Havana neighborhoods.

There were two guys who were leaders, not because of their fierceness or hypertrophied muscles, but for their age and talk. Coincidentally, both had served in the military in Angola, and from time to time they brought up their “exploits” on the Dark Continent.

At lunchtime, no one bothered anybody else’s meager rations. On the contrary, they organized a system for passing trays to the person behind each person before taking their own. The atmosphere remained lively until late afternoon.

That’s when an uproar broke out. They opened the cell door and threw in a young guy who was covered with bumps. He seemed like a nut: crying, screaming, swinging and punching at the walls, apparently trying to knock them down. It was scary; they had to hold him down because he was hurting himself.

Periodically, between sobs, he talked about his misfortune. The night before, he had robbed a neighbor’s house to pay for a spot on a boat. As dawn came, he was going to peddle his stolen merchandise and discussed the matter with his father.

The old man got on his bicycle with the supposed intention of taking this young guy to see a buyer. But when they got to the Parraga station the father threw his son on the curb and started yelling “arrest him.”

What hurt the newcomer most — which seemed incredible, impossibly inconceivable — was that his own father had turned him in.

When it was almost dark, the cell gate opened and they muttered my sweet and beloved name. They returned some of my belongings to me — just some, but who’s to make an issue by that point? I didn’t even think about it, I just shot out of there like an arrow.

I didn’t even wait for a bus. I went on foot – though filthy, dead tired, sorry for those who I left behind and with my head spinning.

The idyllic world of my childhood went to pieces.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

18 thoughts on “My First Express Detention (Part II)

  • On the topic of express detentions, Tracy Eaton has a report on recent trends:

    “Cuban rights abuses, jailings up in new repressive wave”

    “Political arrests in Cuba jumped to more than 6,600 in 2012, the highest in decades as authorities shifted their strategy for dealing with growing civic resistance, dissident groups say. Meanwhile, Cuba’s communist government said Monday it is moving ahead with plans to ease a travel ban on its citizens.

    …Dissidents say Cuba’s regime may be hoping that government critics will take up the offer to leave the country. Cuba is using more short-term arbitrary arrests to disrupt and intimidate critics rather than slap them with long prison sentences like those used against dozens of Cubans in a crackdown on dissent in 2003.

    “The government has changed its tactics,” said Elizardo Sánchez, director of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Havana group that tracks political arrests. Repression is “low-profile, low-intensity” but “reaches more people.”

    Political arrests in 2012 climbed to 6,602, from 4,123 in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010, Sánchez said. Most people are freed within a few hours or days.”

  • These express detentions seems to be working. Cubans in Cuba are much nicer people than in Florida.

  • The name calling on all parts gets very old for the rest of the readers. Please add something to the discussion instead.

  • Luis, what a typical & tiresome Stalinist mindset you have, trying to us who may comment and who may not. Then you turn around and project your mindset onto others. Can you stick to the topic and avoid descending to personal attacks on me?

  • Ladies and gentleman! See how ‘hysterically’ our buddy Griffin states an axiom before the debate even begins, therefore killing it!

    The ignorant affirms, the wise doubts, the sane reflects.


  • KO? Oh please. You think your hysterical screeds are some kind of intellectual knock-out? Marxism is an utter failure: economically, politically, and socially. Every country unfortunate enough to try it has suffered horribly before dropping the doomed ideology. Even the CUban regime is now shifting around trying to find a way out of the mess Marxism has wrought, while still preserving their power, naturally.

    And yet you keep on touting the joys of Marxism. Well, go ahead Luis. Knock yourself out.

  • Now you got WAY too far, calling me a ‘farm animal’ when you aren’t even ABLE TO READ what I wrote. If you were able to read, you didn’t understand it. And if you did understand, you’re being intellectually dishonest.

    You fall perfectly into Goethe’s maximum quote, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”, as you qualify police repression in your country ‘clean’ and in Cuba ‘dirty’. Heck I even commented out about an US activist who got arrested several times this year, you JUSTIFIED it with ‘she was arrested because she was doing illegal things’ or some crap like that.

    Anyway, for me, a Brazilian whose neighbor’s kid was MURDERED by the police, the same police which TORTURES and EXECUTES black and/or poor people on a regular basis, from all that I’ve heard, read, seen on videos and photos, et caterva, Cuban police officers are amateurs.

    But no, we are a ‘good’ country which ‘respects human rights’. We suffer no economic blockade. We suffer no pressure from ‘bigger’ countries. Europe has no ‘common position’ regarding us.

    This is the kind of hypocrisy from the likes of propagandists like yourself, Washington’s mouthpieces, that infuriates me.

  • This was not what I was talking about. I was talking about the Patriot Act, the terror of the war on terror, the torture on Guantanamo Bay, the drones.

    Don’t even try, Griffin. Or are you ready for the third KO?

  • Luis, I live in the US! You are seriously mistaken if you are trying to compare the civil rights abuses in the US by law enforcement to the government-sponsored repression of the PNR and the political police in Cuba. You can support Marxist ideology and even have a soft spot in your heart for the original ideals of Cuban revolution without throwing all in for Cuba’s “repudiation rallies” and the secret police beatings meted out to unarmed middle-aged woman for simply walking to church (Damas en Blanco). I have seen these abuses with my own eyes. Anytime someone unlawfully detains you and holds you against your will, regardless of whether or not you are beaten afterwards, it is an abuse of state power. Dissidents and NON-dissidents in Cuba are regularly stopped, searched and ID-checked. A worn out “carnet de identidad” can land you in jail for days! Writers to this very blog have been harrassed and denied basic human rights simply for expressing an opinion which disagrees with Castro groupthink. Luis, are you that far gone that you support these abuses? If so, at least have the cojones to admit it. At least that way I will know what kind of farm animal I am corresponding with.

  • Luis wrote: “Let me give you a hint: the US has never ‘got past’ these abuses. The last decade is a testament to that.”

    I responded, ” Thousands of protesters in America can march around holding up signs condemning President Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, freely making speeches calling for a change in policy, a change in government or an even the change of the system to Socialism or whatever. Nothing happens to them”

    Luis whines, “Don’t change the subject.”

    Like I said, you are unserious.

  • Griffin, you lose again. Don’t change the subject.

  • Luis, you are unserious.

    Thousands of protesters in America can march around holding up signs condemning President Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, freely making speeches calling for a change in policy, a change in government or an even the change of the system to Socialism or whatever. Nothing happens to them, except when the violent activists hiding among the peaceful protesters use the cover of peaceful assembly and free speech to riot and vandalize (eg. the Black Bloc groups among the Occupy protests).

    And before you respond with the ridiculous accusation that the Black Bloc are all police agents, I know some of the Black Bloc personally, and they boasted of the violence they engaged in during the Toronto G20 protests.

  • Let me give you a hint: the US has never ‘got past’ these abuses. The last decade is a testament to that.

    If you admit that “even if the victim is not a “dissident” it is still an abuse of police power” and it is a mean to “intimidate and control”, you should come to the conclusion that not only applies to Cuba – the social role of the police is just that. It is and it has always been. The branch of the State’s monopoly of violence.

    The only difference is that Cuban police’s abuses are amplified by a magnifier scope of 100x.

    Remember what I said: “Well, not the Cuban police (…)”. What does it mean? Certainly not that the poor guy described in Erasmo’s chronicle didn’t suffer an abuse. It takes a lot of twisting and fallacies to come to your last sentence’s conclusion.

  • During the civil rights struggle of the 60’s in the US, the FBI is known to have been engaged in horrific civil rights violations including beatings and murder. The excuse often given was that the victim was simply a common thug and not a civil rights worker. The corruption led all the way to the top with the Diirector J. Edgar Hoover. It was only by acknowleding these abuses that America has been able to condemn and convict many of the abusers including the reputation of the director. Cuba will never get past these abuses as long as Fidelistas such as yourself refuse to admit that even if the victim is not a “dissident” it is still an abuse of police power and a means to intimidate and control Cubans. You can support the ideology without giving place to these abuses.

  • The ‘usual suspects’ just put things into perspective.

    For example, let us imagine that the mechanic’s son was Cuban and I was an independent ‘journalist’. I’d put a ‘dissident’ or whatever label on him and go to the USINT tell my version of the story. Then the case would be in the first page of every newspaper on the world with the tagline ‘murderous regime’ all over the place, and probably yet more sanctions would be called upon Cuba.

  • Moses,

    The usual suspects won’t comment on this unsavoury aspect of the regime they admire. But the frightening fact which everybody must be aware, is that the Western Leftists endorse it, support it, encourage it, and if they were living in Cuba, they would be the ones in the rapid response brigades shouting abuse at the “counter-revolutionary” gusanos.

    Let them denounce the brutality, the arbitrary exercise of power, the suppression of freedom by an all powerful State. They won’t because the that is the very altar at which they worship.

  • Well, not the Cuban police but certainly the Military Police of my country have a great deal of ‘experience’ from the ‘methods’ learned from the (in)famous School of the Americas on the matter of torture and straight-down executions.

    There is a mechanic next door to my very house. His son was hanging out with his friends late at night. A police car showed up. I don’t know the details which led to this, but havoc took place and he was shot dead right at the spot.

    The latest news I heard were about a police officer that confounded a young black’s bible on his pocket with a gun (!) and shot him down also.

    Trivial things.

  • Thank you Erasmo for this story. If it were not a true story, it would make for the plot of a Hollywood movie. Would one of the frequent “apologists” for the Castro dictatorship please explain to me how the big ole’ cruel US empire is responsible for Erasmo’s experience here? Please tell me how I am responsible for the Cuban police who decide to arrest and detain young black Cubans (white ones too sometimes) whose only crime appears to be they were born poor and black. The saddest fact here is that this behavior on the part of the regime continues to take place today. In fact, worse things take place. Just ask Osvaldo Paya’s widow.

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