By Pedro Pablo Morejón
HAVANA TIMES – Let’s call him Breto. He is over 40 years old and is self-employed. Every now and again, I see him with his tight jeans and his hair still long as if it were a memory of his freaky past. We recently had a chat, remembering the good old days, when he was a rebellious, rocker and… night rider.
We could call them horsemen, but no, they were called night riders. They were young people aged between 14 and just over 20 years old.
It all began back in the 1980s, when the “rural boarding schools” – an educational project that almost nobody talks about anymore – were in full swing.
Wearing masks and mounted on horses (almost always horses stolen from farmers in the area), they would come in the night, shouting and sometimes destroying whatever came in their path.
Then, they would return the horses back to where they came from and the farmers wouldn’t report it, because most cases of theft, and other crimes, always go unpunished in Cuba. The Cuban people have lost their faith in the national police force, in these cases.
I first learned about these night riders back in 1986, when I was entered one of these schools. They came mid-week. It might have been a Wednesday night.
“The night riders are here,” a young boy said with a mixture of fear and morbid curiosity in his voice.
We gathered together in the halls, while we heard anti-establishment slogans and sounds like rocks against the window panes. The teachers on the night shift didn’t seem to be troubled by them. The tougher students enjoyed the show as if they were at the theater.
The next day, you could see the damage done to the blinds, a Marti bust and a dining room window. In the small square, lined up by number, the headmaster ranted us about those outcasts. He condemned the student body’s passive attitude and urged them to condemn and stop them, like true revolutionaries should. He also announced that the National Revolutionary Police force had been informed about the incident.
The night riders would come regularly and visit different rural schools in Pinar del Rio, some more than others. It lasted until the beginning of the time we now call the “Special Period” crisis in the early ’90s. I saw them the whole time I was at high school and during some time at pre-university.
Lidia and Osmay Hernandez are brother and sister who studied high school at a boarding facility in the Sandino municipality. They went to this school years before me. They told me the following.
“At the end of 9th grade, these young people came more and more frequently. They would come on horses and put on their show. Some people enjoyed it, but I was just a little girl and it would scare me,” said Lidia.
“I remember one of those nights, a very brave Physics teacher went to speak to them and he asked them not to break the streetlights in the small square. But they didn’t pay any attention to him whatsoever and smashed them into pieces in front of him.”
Gilberto Leon, a friend who now lives in Las Vegas, US, told me on Facebook that in the early ‘90s, when he went to pre-university, he only heard stories about them. Everything seems to indicate that when the tough financial times came, these antisocial young people began to disappear.
I have tried to research the subject with “Holy Google” and the worldwide web. Unfortunately, I’ve only found a note that mentions the “night riders” phenomenon in a study about the famous rural schools.
It also doesn’t specify whether it happened across the country, but it didn’t as far as I know. Talking about this matter with friends in different provinces, such as independent journalist Osmel Ramirez, it seems that it only happened in the far-western province.
What could have been the cause for such protests in a Cuba that was enjoying a certain economic “boom” that came from its privileged relationship with the former Soviet Union?
Without pretending to be an expert in Sociology, I can only think that it had to do with antiestablishment young people. Kids who felt somewhat stifled and were extremely frustrated because they lived in a country where civil rights and freedoms recognized all over the world, were being violated here whenever anyone dared to exercise them. They found masked violence to be the best way to exorcize these demons.
So, in more or less vulgar terms, I told Breto what I thought had happened. He agreed.