A Second Reading of Lawlessness in Cuba
By Alina Barbara Lopez Hernandez (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – April 6, 2023 was an enlightening day. There’s nothing like experiencing something firsthand to get a good idea. The hurried notes I made that night didn’t provide an analysis, they were just information to calm my friends and followers on social media down. However, there was a more in-depth reading that I made at the time of these events, but as an analysis should be void of emotion, I waited to process everything in the most objective way possible.
The conversation I had at the Provincial Government with approximately ten people – officials from the Cuban Communist Party and Matanzas Provincial Government, and the Provincial Director of Culture -, convinced me that there is a compelling reason Cuban leaders’ refuse to enter a dialogue and are stubborn when choosing trustworthy representatives: they don’t have any arguments to give those who stand up to them. They are ready to shout “Homeland or Death” or “I’m Fidel”, if you shout “Homeland and Life” at them. That’s it.
They aren’t able to explain themselves or answer questions. You could see they were nervous, uneasy. They didn’t look at me when I was talking to them. They displayed a combination of bewilderment and fear. They tried to move the conversation to a personal level, lots of times, especially a well-built man, who said he came from the Perico municipality, was 54 years old and knew my father and the place where he lived in Jovellanos.
He fixed his eyes on me and sat in different places to watch me from different angles while I interrupted the officials, although he didn’t introduce himself with a similar or higher-ranking position than the others. This strategy amused me really, because as the Contemporary European History teacher I used to be, I’ve read quite a bit about State Security (SE) forces in the former Soviet Bloc, and what they were trying with me was typical behavior: changing the conversation to get information about me and draw up a psychological profile so they can identify weak spots. I don’t think they managed to get a lot of useful information from me; although I did.
For example, the official that deals with the ideological side of the Party was stammering, blushing and looking frightened when I said that the Party and the State hadn’t prepared themselves to deal with a change of era when they approved a Constitution that establishes the right to freedom of speech, protest and association, to name a few; as well as the opportunity to question and demand these rights because the Internet and social media exist, at a time of widespread poverty, having abandoned social policies and political tension, will always lead to acts like what I did in the park. What did you expect would happen in a situation like this? How did you approve rights that are unrealistic in a discriminatory system that lacks the freedom to dissent? How will you deal with political dissent? Silence in the room.
I explained to them that the Constitution gave me this right, as a result what I was doing was legal and they shouldn’t be standing in the way. Their argument of “that’s not how it is,” was pathetic. He sounded like a stubborn child. But he didn’t answer my questions: how is it then? He said “you can’t take out a sign” and I asked him where this was stipulated. I argued that a sign shouldn’t incite violence, or an armed uprising against the Government, because that would be illegal, but asking for a person’s freedom, or the freedom of hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba or other demands isn’t a crime. I asked for him to explain to me what he understood by peaceful protest and he didn’t answer either.
The official dealing with Defense said that they were coming from a tour from Union de Reyes. She was young, she looked exhausted. Despite her interest in the website La Joven Cuba’s (LJC) funding, I steered the conversation towards how much poverty and societal collapse have increased and how the Tarea Ordenamiento (economic reforms) was a catalyst in the social uprising on July 11, 2021.
I asked her to show concern for Mairiobis Zamora, the mother of seven children who are living in overcrowded conditions and poverty. Her case was presented in LJC over two years ago and she was never given a home from the publicized presidential program for women with over three young children. She promised to look into it, but she didn’t even write down her name. She was only concerned about whether I’d go back to the park. I always said yes and that decided everything.
They didn’t want to talk because they had nothing to say. I remembered something that I wrote in my article in late July 2021: Cuba: the only Party before the crisis:
“A political party that governs single-handedly, doesn’t compete with another organization, nor does needs to present itself in an election to be ratified, would seem to have a great advantage. Ironically, this prerogative is also its greatest weakness.
“Not having to negotiate power, assuming that it won’t be disputed, leads to a harmful attitude on a political level as they consider any sign of social pressure inacceptable and, when this does happen, the consequent reaction reveals a complete ineptitude under the guise of boldness.”
I didn’t refuse to talk to them, I treated them with respect at all times. However, those who “love love and hate hate,” also abhor the rights the Constitution bestows citizens, which they themselves wrote.
At the request of my nervous Culture Director, who glued to his phone said he was calling the Ministry non-stop (clearly not the Ministry of Culture), I crossed over to the Sala White (White Room) to wait for a response. They’d set up the ambush for me. Or that’s what they thought.
The shameful minutes when my daughter, my son-in-law and I were violated by State Security agents who were trying to take me by force, is something I’d like to erase from my memory, although it’ll be hard. The four agents know that, despite everything, I am more embarassed for them, for the evil they committed, than I am for me. I only have bruises left on my arms, I don’t have hate. Here, the haters are others. But that wasn’t the worst thing, I’ve seen more brutal acts of repression against other people.
Something a lot more serious happened there, which I would like to report to the public in Cuba and the world. No matter how much I try to remember, I don’t think there was a precedent. At that same place where we were harassed, just a few meters away and watching everything, were the Communist Party and Provincial Government officials who I’d just finished “conversing” with a few minutes before! They’d slowly come out of the government office and sat down in the patio/cafe in the Concert Hall.
When I arrived, they were there talking and watching me as they drank the soda they offered me. I stopped to go to the bathroom before crossing the park again and they thought I was going to leave, so they stopped and went to the entrance to warn the agents they could proceed. Everybody saw it. Everybody heard shouting. Plus, the Sala White can be clearly seen from the Party and Government headquarters thanks to its central position in the Park.
Along with National Revolutionary Police officers who were called soon after to arrest me, there were also several of these officials, including the woman who directs the Government’s People’s Assistance Office and a woman from the provincial Party, called Rebeca, who hadn’t been present during the conversation but had “dealt” with the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists and the Culture Board for years.
The symbolism of this act, what it reveals, is way too much. State Security and the National Revolutionary Police, at the request of and in the presence of Party and Government officials, running over and arresting someone for exercising their constitutional right, who they are obligated to protect by Law, an intellectual, the only woman living in Matanzas who is a member of the History Academy, and is also a member of UNEAC. A peaceful, respectful person, with a legal knowledge that allows her to pick up on these violations. What do they do to others who aren’t so aware and are less prepared? What haven’t they done over all these years?
Who was ordering who? The Party ordering State Security, or vice-versa? This doesn’t make a difference, like a friend told me. The question is we remember the words Jose Luis Toledo Santander spoke before the National Assembly when discussing the draft Constitution: “The Constitution can’t outline guidelines for the Party.” What socialist rule of law is that?
Like another friend recalled, a group of students had symbolically buried the 1940 Constitution, on that same day in 1952, just after the Batista coup. History’s coincidences. Unfortunately, it’s an obvious coincidence, because the 2019 Constitution had a worst fate: it was stillborn. It’s impossible to implement.
In the words of lawyer and professor Rene Fidel Gonzalez Garcia: “Freedom doesn’t make sense if it’s not to be exercised. On the 18th of every month – just like I did in March for the centennial of the “Protest of the Thirteen” -, I’ll sit near Marti and Liberty’s statues demanding a call for “a democratically elected National Constituent Assembly to write up a new Constitution that can be applied in all its parts.”
I will be there on these days for an hour, without a sign. When this falls on a working day, I’ll be there from 5:00-6:00 PM, on weekends and holidays from 9:00-10:00 AM. Bearing in mind what happened on April 6th and the Party apparatus’ levels of complicity, I hold the highest ranking members of the PCC at a national and provincial level responsible, before Cuba and the world, the press and diplomats, of anything that might happen to me from now on (from a hate crime, to a beating, an engine failing or an accident, to name a few. Miguel Diaz-Canel and Susely Morfa, and State Security forces, who are their repressive arm.
Note from the editorial team: Professor Alina Barbara Lopez Hernandez was arrested in Matanzas and later released on April 6, 2023 after peacefully protesting the arrest of writer Jorge Fernandez Era that same day. El Toque has reproduced the following testimony that was originally published on Lopez’s Facebook page, with the author’s permission.
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