Chronicle of a Protest Announced in Havana

By Lynn Cruz

A portion of Vedado, including the Yara Cinema in the center to the left of the Habana Libre Hotel.  Photo: wikipedia

HAVANA TIMES – For several days, Cuban artists and activists launched a call for a public protest through social networks. On June 25, a twenty-seven-year-old Havana man, Hansel Hernandez Galiano, had been killed by a gunshot fired by a police officer.

The news shocked all of us who have Internet access in Cuba. A group of independent journalists made the event visible through debates on social networks. Meanwhile, state television, the medium to which most Cubans have access, especially middle-aged and elderly, has remained silent regarding the injustice.

The response of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint) was to defend its two officers, that is, the patrolmen who ended the life of Hernandez Galiano. On the other hand, the version of the relatives contradicts the note issued by the Minint. Hernandez’s body was cremated. It appears there was never an intention of conducting an in-depth investigation.

The place chosen to protest was out in front of the Yara cinema, located in the most central corner of the capital’s Vedado neighborhood, across from the Coppelia Ice Cream parlor.

To go or not to go, that was the question. Right there my ethical conflict began.
It was important to challenge power to reclaim the value of a human’s life. A black and poor human being.

As an already censored actress, I decided not to confront either the police or the state security agents. I have only done so when I have defended my work.

That morning I had to go to the bank to make a deposit. Knowing that there were fellow activists exposing themselves to the repression had me tense. I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.

At dawn, arrests and complaints had already occurred. This, in addition to subjecting independent journalists to house arrest. At one point I stopped feeling and that scared me because I begin to believe that I am becoming accustomed to state violence.

I walked about thirty blocks towards the cinema, and little by little I felt that I had finally found a way to be useful. People on the streets seemed indifferent to events. As I got closer to the meeting area, I heard some rumors. Some said that Hernandez Galiano had died in a line. Others that he lived in Old Havana. I took the precaution of walking on side streets until I arrived at the meeting area.

The police cordon encompassed the area from G to O streets approximately, and from 27th to 21st. There were buses with plainclothes officers in the streets, groups also on the corner of 25th, at the intersection of the University.

L and 23rd streets were the most filled with agents, including traffic cops, the army, the police and, of course, the State Security.

At that time, almost noon, although I was not paying attention to my phone, the activists were probably already in jail. Not a fly was moving at the meeting spot.

The day before near my house, on 17th Street I saw a long row of riot police trucks pass. I had never seen anything like it, but that is not something that stops activists and those in power know it. That vision was one of government fear of the Cuban people. Hopefully, I thought, someone goes outside to do something other than to get in lines for food.

In this way, the only news that the independent press would have would be regarding the arrest of the activists, as a kind of vicious circle. The announced protest was converted into a mere representation. It is curious that performance artists such as Tania Bruguera, Luis Manuel Otero and Amaury Pacheco led it. They evidenced that a protest announced in Cuba can become a great spectacle. The antagonistic characters (the agents of law and order) were the only ones who were visible in the farce.

The protagonists (artists and activists) made their interventions in the prisons and police cars. A whole display of resources, gasoline, personnel, in the midst of the worst shortages that the island has suffered since the 1990s. Without urban transport, the city is literally on foot. For three months now for most people there is no other way to move.

But absence is presence. In the end, an activist’s job is to raise awareness. This action was also a way to create interference in the rumors spread by the government and to take this debate to the streets. It is unfortunate that many people at this point still do not know what happened in Guanabacoa on June 25th. Internet access is limited by high prices and the difficulty of acquiring smartphones.

As the poet Rafael Alcides once said, the artist is a witness who documents his time. My activism and journalism have not stopped me from feeling creative. I set out to understand in situ the dramaturgy of power in a time of pandemic and economic crisis.

There is government fear because the people are in the streets, from one side to the other, in crowded lines. If the protesters had gone with a photo of Hernandez to any market, they would have found a quorum without having tried.

The Cuban people are helpless among the beans, the peas, the cornmeal and the powdered milk. I feel powerless seeing how life begins to be worth less. How violence is naturalized.

Recently, young people murdered two policemen in the municipality of Calabazar. The fact did not go unpunished. Two police officers raped two minors. They were recently processed. But the killing of Hernandez Galiano coincided when there is still talk in Cuba too of the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

The regime will do its utmost not to recognize that the Cuban police are as despised as Floyd’s killers. This new impunity is risky. It leaves individuals in a state of total helplessness.

I imagine that the “revolutionary” morality of allowing both verbal and physical aggression to those who think otherwise, influences this deterioration of the agents of Cuban law and order. I have great respect and admiration for the artists and activists, the invisible demonstrators at the Yara cinema on 23rd and L streets.

Lynn Cruz

It's not art that imitates life, its life that imitates art," said Oscar Wilde. And art always goes a step further. I am an actress and writer. For me, art, especially writing, is a way of exorcising demons. It is something intimate. However, I decided to write journalism because I realized that I did not exist. In Cuba, only the people authorized by the government have the right to express themselves publicly. Havana Times is an example of coexistence within a democracy and since I consider myself a democrat, my dream is to integrate this publication’s philosophy into the reality of my country.