How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana

Isbel Diaz

Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.
Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – After participating in the congress of the Association of Latin American Studies in Chicago, I returned home to Cuba this past June 20th, following a one-month stay in the United States. I arrived at terminal 2 of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to be received by Cuban State Security agents. Customs officers then proceeded to take away my cell phone and other belongings.

I was detained at the airport for three hours and all of my personal belongings were meticulously inspected. The officials were chiefly interested in all of the documents I carried with me and all electronic devices that could store information.

As such, in addition to my phone (which stored all of my personal contacts and private notes), two external hard disks and their cables, two cell phones I had brought my nephew and my boyfriend as gifts and an SD memory with family videos were confiscated, even though the authorities didn’t know what their contents were and didn’t even take the trouble of asking.

All of these devices were classified as items for personal use by the customs authorities themselves – the number of items didn’t exceed the limit established by Resolution 320 / 2011, which establishes what imports are of a commercial nature, nor did their respective prices surpass the limits established in the Value List published under Resolution 312 / 2011.

It is therefore quite evident that these confiscations are the result of the arbitrariness and excessive monitoring that all Cubans with free-thinking postures that are critical of the country’s socio-political reality are subjected to.

The fact that Lt. Colonel Omar, a well-known State Security officer, came in and out of the premises, reveals that the reasons behind this incident are clearly political.

I was given absolutely no explanation as to why my belongings were being confiscated. I was only referred to the customs resolution that empowers these officials to retain what they see fit. The contents and scope of the said resolution were not explained to me either.

What was explained to me were the reasons they confiscated several of the documents I carried with me. According to the Confiscation and Notification document, they “tarnish the country’s morals and customs.” The documents in question were:

–          Historian Frank Fernandez’ classic El anarquismo en Cuba (“Anarchism in Cuba”), a book the author had sent to the Cuban Anthropology Institute (as the dedication he had handwritten attested to). Fernandez had learned that a group was studying the issue at the institute and he wanted to contribute to the work with his research on Cuba’s workers’ and anarcho-syndicalist movements.

–          The open letter dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua had addressed to the Association of Latin American Studies, to which all Cubans who participated in this year’s LASA congress had access.

–          A page from a New Herald newspaper with part of an article dealing with the LGBTI community on the island and showing a photograph of the Day Against Homophobia activities organized every year by Cuba’s National Sexual Education Center headed by Mariela Castro. By chance, the page also showed a photo of dissident Yoani Sanchez. This immediately piqued the interest of the customs official, who labeled the document “anti-Cuban propaganda” without having read the article.

The only item that could in any way be construed as an affront on Cuban morals and customs is the photo of the Day Against Homophobia activities, which shows several people wearing colorful feathers singing on a Cuban stage. This homophobic posture must be condemned by our community on the island.

I publicly denounce this violation of my rights and abuse of power before the international community, and know that I will demand the immediate return of my cell phone and the rest of my belongings, all acquired legally.

I am not the first person who suffers this type of violence and I will probably not be the last, not while the Cuban political police continue to enjoy the prerogatives and privileges they do now.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

17 thoughts on “How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana

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