HAVANA TIMES, March 18 – “Whoever Doesn’t Jump Is a Yankee.” This was one of the slogans I heard shouted along Obispo Avenue by a group of women in response to the pilgrimage of the “Ladies in White.”
It occurred today, March 18, at about eleven in the morning. I was near Obispo and Compostela Streets, in Old Havana, when by chance I heard the uproar and decided to get closer, as did several other onlookers.
Coming down the street was a group of approximately twenty women dressed in civilian clothing and chanting slogans. Around them flocked several reporters filming and taking pictures. I suppose these were mainly or entirely foreign reporters.
At first I didn’t know what was happening until somebody told me it was about the Ladies in White. But none of the women I saw were wearing white, nor could I understand the first slogans they chanted. But suddenly, at the closest spot I could reach, they began to shout, “Whoever doesn’t jump is a Yankee.”
It was like when I was a little girl and somebody shouted, “The last one is a rotten egg,” and you had to run quickly to not be last. It was like in a meeting when they ask who is in agreement and everybody raises their hand. I don’t know if the idea was for those of us who were there observing, to have jumped up and down to demonstrate our political affiliation, or if it was an invitation for us to join in. No one did.
The women in the demonstration itself did indeed jump. One even ran forward jumping with her two feet at the same time. Finally that group went by and I was able to see —for the first time since I’d heard of them— the Ladies in White: a group of between fifteen and twenty women dressed in white. They all proceeded in silence and carried gladiola flowers. Around them were several uniformed police.
Some people commented that the Ladies in White had taken another pilgrimage yesterday and that women spectators had roughed them up. That could have been a rumor or people’s exaggeration. What I saw today was that they walked very calmly without anyone touching them.
However, it didn’t seem strange to me that they had been pushed around the day before. Maybe it was because I know that in the 1980s people threw eggs, among other things, and physically and verbally attacked people who were leaving the country. I was little, but I’ve heard of this and I’ve also seen a documentary about these acts. In fact, recently I found out that the meaning of the slogan “Whoever doesn’t jump is Yankee” also comes from those days.
A well organized response
Another spectator commented to me later that yesterday the Ladies in White marched along shouting “Freedom” and that women in the crowd responded with “…for our five heroes” (referring to the Cuban Five). I find it striking that these community women, who are not police or agents, have been able to become organized so well and interrupt the Ladies in White so quickly.
Could it be that they all come from the same neighborhood? How did they find out about the march? Was it publicized? I was also surprised they were only women. Undoubtedly it would have looked very bad if men had faced up to the Ladies, especially if it was true that there was some pushing and shoving in the heat of moment, as someone said.
Between women it’s something else, there are more equal conditions. Both sides were made up only of women: those from the community and the Ladies in White (who, by the way, are also Cuban women and therefore part of the broader Cuban community).
The Ladies are mothers of political prisoners and of people who lost their lives trying to leave the country illegally. At least some of the women from the community must also be mothers. The two groups have that in common.
The fact that the Ladies demanded freedom and the other women responded by saying “…for our five heroes” (if in fact this really happened) made me realize that the Ladies as well as the mothers of the five heroes have children who are prisoners for political reasons.
Politics and power: fomenters of differences
Politics and power possess the capacity to divide people and make them concentrate on the differences that exist between them, despite what they share in common.
What’s important is not that those women have children who are imprisoned or that they’ve lost them at sea, but rather that their political ideas are directed against the government. Perhaps someone could describe them as agents in the service of the enemy. It’s possible, although I don’t know it with certainty, though I think it would be horrendous of anyone to use a mother’s pain as a political instrument.
But I don’t feel I have the right to judge them. I haven’t lost a child and nor do I have one in prison; in fact I don’t have any children. However, people who wanted to emigrate in the 1970s and 80s were not acting in the service of anybody and they wanted only one thing: to leave the country, for whatever reason.
That’s why they received blows and insults. I wonder if people who participate in these demonstrations against people who are against the government, take time to think about what they’re doing. Do they ask themselves to what extent this is just, if they’re not disrespecting the rights of others, or if they too are being used as instruments in a certain way?
I see these positions being repeated from the 70s and 80s, and I think it would be amusing to see a repetition of what happened in the 90s: the return of emigrants who were so well received by those who had previously thrown eggs at them. The émigrés even bought cartons of eggs for people here – and since we were in the Special Period crisis, eggs were extremely scarce in the country.
Also at that time the holding of dollars was decriminalized. What had been a crime, for which many people paid dearly, became a luxury. Those people who had relatives abroad were fortunate.
We also reconciled with religious believers, and suddenly people didn’t have to hide their beliefs for fear of losing their job. People belonging to the Communist Party could then too be religious. In fact, the [US group] Pastors for Peace began offering us support and material aid in that period.
We never think that circumstances can change until they do. Who knows if within a few years the Ladies in White and the demonstrators won’t sit down to talk and recall this and other similar days. But for that to happen, many other things will have to change first.