Jimmy Roque Martínez
HAVANA TIMES – Twenty years have passed since Cuba’s maleconazo, the demonstrations that took place down Havana’s ocean drive on August 5, 1994 – in protest of the extreme economic crisis the Cuban people were enduring at the beginning of the 1990s as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The demonstrations began after Cuban authorities detained a number of vessels that had been hijacked by people intent on leaving the country for the United States.
I was 15 at the time. That day, I found out what was going on thanks to some neighbors who had heard news of the disturbances on Radio Marti.
The station was not reliable in its reports, as it provided false information that didn’t have to do with the disturbances. However, at least they reported on the demonstration, while the Cuban media didn’t do so until nighttime.
Disregarding my mother’s instructions not to go out of the house, I went to the ocean drive on my bike to see what was happening up close.
When I arrived, the situation was already under control, but there were still many people crowding around across the area and, of course, many police officers.
People were saying that stones were thrown at buses and broken the windows of nearby hotels. I saw a man being detained and beaten by the police. No one said anything in favor or against that. It was a very confusing moment for everyone, I think.
I recall that, that same night, Fidel spoke on television and said what those at my cousin’s wanted him to say: that Cuba would no longer patrol US borders and that anyone who wanted to leave could do so freely, on their own.
That night, a new mass exodus towards Florida began. It involved vessels of every sort, most of them makeshift rafts that stood a good chance of capsizing during the voyage.
I don’t want the disturbances of 94 to take place in Cuba again. Acts of violence would only bring more pain to Cubans. To avoid these, Cuban authorities must cease implementing unpopular and repressive measures, as they continue to do.
Citizens must also begin to demand their rights peacefully, something that would prevent extreme and spontaneous situations that are generally impossible to control.