The University of Havana magazine Alma Mater has published an article which categorically expresses its will “to make public any case of excessive use of force during the police action, last Sunday [July 11], against people who demonstrated peacefully.” Comforting news…
We hope that this will come to fruition and overcome the inconveniences that they may encounter in their research.
A crude and harsh testimony is circulating and Progreso Semanal reproduces it after the piece from the university publication.
As we wrote recently: “Violence is not a solution, respect for each and every Cuban is. Calling for fratricide can be the death of the nation.” We only add that the social fabric is already hurt and produces consequences in the medium and short term.
Openness to the truth, in fact facilitating it and humbly acknowledging excesses, is the path to healing. It is necessary, but insufficient. Others which aim to to get to the bottom of things, and go to the root causes that resulted in the great demonstrations of July 11 and subsequent days, are still pending.
An exhausted model that does not assume these paths will continue to express itself in various ways.
From the magazine, Alma Mater
#AlmaMater Update on the situation of university students detained on July 11
Our magazine has been in contact with University of Havana student Alexander Hall, with a view to obtaining his testimony about the events that occurred in the protests that took place in Havana where he was stopped. This conversation took place in the early hours of last Friday, one day after his release.
On the other hand, we had tried to interview Leonardo Romero Negrín, also a University of Havana student, about the events of April 30, in Havana. At the time he told us that this was not a good moment for an interview since he was under a criminal investigation. Romero Negrín was also one of the students arrested on July 11.
Alma Mater managed to interview both students and [published] the statements of both about what happened after their participation in the demonstrations in the capital, their respective arrests and their subsequent release.
We express our willingness to continue investigating and making public any case of excessive use of force during the police action … against people who demonstrated peacefully.
Below we reproduce the testimony given by Leonardo Romero Negrín to the Cuban publication La Joven Cuba (LJC).
The Abuses Against Protesters in Cuba: A Need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
By the Editorial Board of La Joven Cuba
“Domestic virtue against foreign interference” was the maxim of the old republican mentality. “In a besieged square, any dissent is treason,” is repeated in Cuba ad nauseam. But by keeping silent so as not to give ammunition to an external enemy, virtue and justice can be lost.
The testimony that follows is too serious, but far from stirring political passions of any ideological stripe, we must calm down and put, as citizens, shame, indignation and bewilderment, at the service of decorum and decency.
LJC asks the Cuban government, first of all, guarantees for the safety of Leonardo Romero Negrín; and secondly, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that transparently investigates these events and others that may have occurred during and after 7/11.
What is your legal status at this time?
I am under house arrest, awaiting a trial for public disorder.
Why did they take you prisoner at the July 11 demonstration?
I was walking and I saw a student of mine in the middle of the demonstration. He had a camera and was recording. I held him by the arm to prevent someone from taking him away or from a crowd of people coming and beating him. We were exactly below the camera of the Saratoga Hotel; in fact, I told the officers that if I refused to testify, the only thing they could use was the recording from that camera that shows second by second what happened there.
I was with my student on the sidewalk of the hotel, watching what was happening. I did not dare to take sides at that time, despite the fact that I saw atrocities of all kinds. I was aware of the previous process I was involved in for the [April] protests on Obispo Street. I knew that I could not get involved so as not to complicate my situation.
Suddenly, when I looked to the side, I saw that my student was being beaten by four civilians. He was lying on the floor in a fetal position, protecting his camera, and these people were beating and stomping on him. All I did was throw myself on him so they wouldn’t hit him anymore. Several officers took me, held me in a head lock and beat me, but that was not the end of it.
They took me to a police station (Dragones), which is exactly one block away, and when we entered they threw me on the floor and between four people they kicked the hell out of me. I covered my face with my forearms and they kept kicking me, that’s why I have a swollen forearm, a doctor saw it. Also one of my ribs hurts, it’s not fractured, but it hurts and the doctor also saw that.
Then they took me out to a little patio. An officer appeared with a white, wooden board and a camera in the other hand, which belonged to a state journalist who was there and saw everything. I don’t want to get him involved, but he is an Alma Mater journalist who saw exactly everything they did to me. The officer slapped my legs with the board several times; I still have the scars.
When I was going to leave there another officer came, number 03912 from the Dragones station, and told two people to hold me; he grabbed me by the hair with both hands and said: “For being a mercenary!” And head-butted on the nose, I almost fainted, and they kept beating me before transferring me to the Zanja station.
You no longer have that many marks on your body, precisely because time has passed and you have been in seclusion for almost a week.
That’s one thing, when we got to the station, people didn’t want the doctors to see them because they knew that if they had been beaten they were going to delay them [seeing a doctor] so that the swelling would go down and then release them.
All those who were in Ivanov – the name by which the Cotorro prison for minors is commonly known – can be questioned separately, given a polygraph, and each will say the same about the blows I had received: a forearm completely swollen, as reported by the doctor, a bruised nose, blows behind the leg, and the rib.
When they took us to the doctor, I was explaining to him about the blow I had received on my nose, and while I was telling him about the one that I have on my forearm, an officer who was outside arrived, took hold of me and told me that I no longer had anything to do there. I had asked the doctor if he was a civilian or a military man, he told me that he was civilian. Then I asked him: “What do you answer to? the powers that be or the Hippocratic Oath.” He said the Oath. So I told him: “Look at the bruises, what are they?” —I had my face mask high over my nose so that it wouldn’t show — and when I began to show him the blows, the officer took me out.
There was a major sitting outside processing complaints. As they were taking me out, I asked him if he was the person with whom I had to fill out the complaint. He replied, “I have nothing to talk to you about.” They dragged me to the 6 Bus, where we were.
What they did to me was nothing. There were people who had bruised eyes, a swollen face, others with casts, fractured fingers. They brought in an old man on Friday, they went to look for him at his house because they saw him on one of the street cameras. They brought him into Ivanov in handcuffs and made him walk through what is known as Somaton. What’s that? Well, they get him off the truck and there is a row of soldiers on the left and another on the right, and all the inmates have to parade in between those two rows as they are hit with police batons.
Those people weren’t doing anything, just walking handcuffed and they were beaten down. That 74-year-old old man is bruised all over his belly, on his ribs. That is why I say that what they did to me was nothing compared to what happened to others. My arm hurts, but I don’t have that much swelling, my nose is hardly noticeable, but I have the scar behind my leg and the pain in my rib.
When they were questioning me, I asked the interrogator for his name and asked him to bring the officer on duty. That was on the second day. I told him that I wanted to report all those who were being violent there and they replied that I was in the middle of a process, that I could not make a complaint. Then I said to them: “May it be known, in case you don’t, they are hitting people.” When I pointed them out they denied that they hitting anyone, which is totally untrue. There they have total impunity at night, when there is no officer.
For example, at bedtime a person sat up in his bed because his back hurt and didn’t want to lie down. They told him that he had to lie down; he explained that he was in pain. They insulted him and took him away. Everybody saw it. He was a young blond man. They smacked him with batons and blows in front of everyone; the unit woke up. Like that case there were others.
When we got to the unit they stripped us all. They called us fags, cock suckers, and that they were going to fuck us…. They had us against the wall for two hours, we had been waiting naked for forty minutes, they came from behind and pulled my hair — I have long hair — and they told me: “China girl, with this hair we can make a tremendous toupee.” They grabbed my ass — mine and others too.
On one occasion they found a baton on the table, and José, the baker, turned around in fear and they told asked what he was looking at. They slapped him. He was handcuffed and just yelled, “I haven’t done anything!” They would tell him: “Shut up and don’t look at my face!” That was seen by all the people of the Collective 5 and 6 of Ivanov; they can repeat the same exact story. Like that example there are others, but I don’t know their names.
What is your procedural situation?
They notified me that I was under house arrest, as had happened when the Obispo case, but under a new process.
What are you accused of?
Public disorder, but I told them that I did not disorder anything. The evidence is in the Saratoga’s street camera, frame by frame. I was just standing, I didn’t even yell even though I wanted to but I didn’t because of the previous problem I was involved with. All I did was get on top of my student so they wouldn’t hit him.
I was coming from the Jesús María neighborhood, and when I crossed Monte Street, I saw a crowd of people running, people screaming. I turned right, to the Saratoga. I did not get involved, but I wanted to because I saw protesters with their heads split open, receiving blows, people who were demonstrating peacefully and saying: “Why are they taking us if we are demonstrating peacefully?” Many helped those they were taking away and while they were being taken away they were being beaten across their faces. Four would immobilize and the others would administer the beating.
I got close to the corner of the Hotel Saratoga. Several events happened there. A man, who seems to have had a colostomy, lost the bandage, his guts came out and he began to scream. And all this time I was holding my student’s hand so that nothing would happen to him.
In front of me they beat a boy and something happened that I will never forget: an old man who seems to sleep on the street came and lay down next to the boy who was lying on the floor and told the police that if they were going to take the boy they’d have to take him too. They evidently crumpled him up too and threw him in the patrol car.
Minutes later, my student’s thing happened, he was beaten by four people. He was just recording, he didn’t scream because one of the things I told him was not to complicate things because he was a minor. His name is Marcos Antonio Pérez Fernández, he was a student of mine when he was in the tenth grade; I was studying at the university and teaching.
He was accused of public disorder; he was released and not charged; he was fined two thousand pesos. There are videos of when they were trying take his camera away and they hit started hitting him.