Surprises and Parole in Today’s Cuba

By Lorenzo Martin

HAVANA TIMES – I went to visit my old lady, as I normally do, on Sunday. It’s the most important and delightful visit I ever make. But this visit wasn’t the same as always, it was full of surprising news.

I bought a few things to take, the few things an ordinary Cuban’s wallet can afford, like I normally do so I can take things she likes. Seasonings, a couple of pounds of malanga, a bottle of milk, three mangos and a packet of spaghetti with a piece of cheese and tomato sauce that she likes so much.

When I got to the house, her ever present neighbor Chacho welcomed me at the front door, drinking a cup of recently strained coffee and with real outrage written all over his face, like I’ve never seen before.

“Here comes the gusanera (worm),” he spit out as soon as I stepped foot in the house.

“Let me remind you, Chacho, that the worms are the ones who cling to the feet of the boots that crush them,” I replied trying to hurt him. “By the way… how are your grandchildren doing in Miami? Did you already go to cash in your pension this semester?” I continue tormenting him.

“Did you hear about your brother-in-law?” He asked, then he said something I couldn’t make out and buried his head in his steaming hot cup.

The first surprise came as soon as I went into the house: my sister was in the house and her inseparable husband’s car wasn’t parked out front. She was talking to mama in the kitchen in a hushed voice, a conversation that came to a stop as soon as they heard my footsteps.

After the essential greetings and putting the shopping bags down on the table, we gave each other kisses. I swear that I hadn’t felt the kiss and hug my sister gave me that day in many, many years, and joining Chacho’s words made me think her husband had befallen some disgrace.

For the first time in a long time, I felt endless love for my little sister, my only sister. The situation took me back 30 or 40 years ago, when she was just a kid and I was the most important man in her life after papa: her big brother, her protector, her best friend…

Without coming out of that tender embrace, I led her to the table, helped her to sit down and after giving her some quiet time, I invited her to talk.

“We can have all the differences in the world, but you will always be my sister and I will always be here for you. Tell me… is something going on with Dennis?”

“Yes and no, but I don’t know where to start, I don’t know if you’ll understand,” she replied keeping her gaze down.

“You have no idea how much I love to see you treat each other like this. Do you want to have a bottle of wine I’ve been keeping for a while, they say wine relaxes tongues and lets emotions soar,” mama interrupted. “I’m going to run some errands with Chacho, and you can both make the most of it and say what you need to without anyone getting in the way.”

Maria Luisa agreed without saying a word. Clearly mama knew something I didn’t. Mama brought the bottle, two glasses from the fancy dinner set, picked up a plastic bag and left us alone.

“What’s going on with Dennis? Marriage problems?”

“No, not at all, but it’s worse, I don’t know where to begin.”

“At the beginning, I think is a good place to start. I’ll try to help you with whatever I can,” I offered, without letting go of her hand.

“Dennis has left the country,” she told me almost without breathing.

“On a mission?”

“No, to Miami, the U.S.”

The news hit me hard. I couldn’t find the words. I needed to digest the news, but ideas were mixing in my brain.

“To Miami…? What do you mean to Miami?  What about his life, his background, his work… What do you mean to Miami? I don’t understand anything.”

“He went, my brother, he left. It’s as simple as that. He got into a boat his brother paid for and he left.”

“But, when… how did that happen?”

“A month ago.”

“Have you had problems because of it?”

“Yes and no. I’d handed in my resignation at MININT about six months ago. When he arrived in the US, they summoned me for a couple of meetings to try and find out what was going on. The Party and Counter-Intelligence also called me. They made my life uncomfortable, but not exactly problems. In the end, it helped my resignation. Resignations are taking between a year or two to be accepted because so many officers are resigning. Mine came 15 days after Dennis left.”

“But… I don’t get it. Dennis, a State Security captain, a guy who has repressed dissidents left and right… What the hell is Dennis doing in Miami?”

“I’ll tell you the details now. Let me give you all the news, then you can ask all the questions you like. I’m also leaving the country. Our daughter applied for my Parole and the Embassy approved it. But… you know there’s always a but here. Counter-intelligence have summoned me and warned me not to spend any money on a flight because I’m being “regulated”, and I won’t be able to leave the country for at least two years. So, I’m going to have to go the same way he did. Please don’t tell mami, I don’t want to worry her.

“Well, that last piece of news is normal, you were a member of the ministry up until yesterday, they regulate people just for writing a poem or posting something on social media… plus you’re the wife of a counter-intelligence officer… what I don’t understand is this madness about you guys leaving the country now, like right now, you are the most integrated and Communist couple on the island and suddenly you want to leave the country, just like that, overnight… I swear I don’t understand… Are you going to set up a CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) in Miami? A Cuban police station? I don’t get it.”

“There’s nothing to get, my brother. MININT officials are also human, we are also Cubans. We have the same problems the rest of the population has. The honeypot of power is only for the elite clique. Maybe a police station chief, a colonel, generals… but for anyone under them it isn’t like everyone thinks it is.”

“And what about your super communist discourse…”

“My brother, they’re just slogans, straight from the manual. You say them without believing them. They form part of your image, your character.”

“And… when exactly did you both change your mind?”

“I’m only asking you not to tell anyone. It could really hurt me and even bring me serious problems.  I’ve never hurt anyone. I was a police instructor and as such, I had to address crimes people had committed.  I even helped some of them to get off lighter. In Dennis’ case, it was a bit different.”

“Very different, I’d say,” I clarified.

“Very different. He had to persecute and charge people just for thinking differently. They even worked with fabricated charges. But that was exactly what chipped away at his beliefs. July 11th (the protests of July 11, 2021) ended up making him disillusioned about his work. He opened his eyes… but believe me it’s a difficult process.”

“Yes, I imagine…”

“No, you can’t imagine it. When this happened to him, he realized he was alone. He couldn’t talk about it with any of his work colleagues. He didn’t even confide in me. It was a long process. Talking to dissidents, interrogating them… realizing that they are just ordinary people, they just have an ideal and are willing to fight for it and risk their freedom and even their physical integrity sometimes… were things that got him thinking, to try and figure out which side was right. Believe me, it hurts me to know that he went through all of that without thinking he could turn to me.”

“Wow, it turns out the guy finally had values!”

“Don’t be rude now or that’s the end of the conversation. You and I were both raised with the same values. I would have never been with a man I didn’t think had integrity. It’s just police work is frowned upon here in Cuba, but somebody has to do it. It’s a job, a career like any other. But we are indoctrinated, manipulated, separated from the population in every morning assembly they give us, in every statement. But we aren’t different to everyone else. You’d be surprised to know just how many officers are resigning, how many disillusioned people there are in MININT, and they are crazy about leaving but don’t know how… It isn’t easy.”

“I’m not going to judge, unless he’s gone there to go undercover or something like that which wouldn’t be the first time, although I doubt that’s the case because he was a well-known officer. I’m going to ask you to think long and hard about leaving on a boat. On the one hand, fighting to get your travel restriction lifted won’t get you anywhere because they won’t do it and you’ll just become a public enemy of the State with all the reprisals this involves, and you know full well what that’s like. On the other hand, the sea is always dangerous. You have no idea how many people are lying at the bottom of the Florida Strait, especially Cubans. There is no safe boat, my sister. Mima is old and wouldn’t be able to take it if anything were to happen to you.”

“But my life here has ended, the girls are there, my husband is there… It’ll be hard for me to find a decent job as a civilian. I don’t have much choice.”

“You always have a choice. Any job is noble. Plus, I’d be really upset if anything were to happen to you. You are an annoying Communist, but you’re my little sister and I love you.”

“You’re annoying and I love you too. Please, my brother, don’t say anything to mami, she knows that Dennis left but that’s it. It’s better she doesn’t know anything until I take a path in my life.”

“Let’s change the subject then, because she’s already at the door… Shall we get a couple of beers? Because you drank the wine all by yourself with this business.”

“You know I don’t drink. Another day, we’ll sit somewhere and we’ll carry on talking with the beer you like so much. I promise I’ll pay for it so you don’t cry about being poor.”

Once the conversation ended, we spent the afternoon as a family. We ate at about 6 PM and then I went back home. On the way home, my mind was full of ideas floating around. How much of what my sister told me is true? Are there really that many MININT officers fed up with their work? Are their superiors really going through the same process, but feel like it’s a dead-end?

A lot of surprises in one day, a lot of questions… Time will give us the answers, while I’ll try to understand and accept these surprises. 

Read more from the diary of Lorenzo Martin here.

One thought on “Surprises and Parole in Today’s Cuba

  • Thanks so much for this article. Many of us from outside Cuba who have come to love the country and the people need to understand the challenges of daily life for so many. While this does not diminish the affection that we feel for the Cuban people, it helps us to reconsider how our support may make a difference. Thank you Lorenzo.

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