HAVANA TIMES – On September 25th, the Cuban government exchanged prison time, which artist Hamlet Lavastida had been suffering, for exile. He was in prison for over 90 days. He landed in Havana on June 22nd, coming from Berlin, where he had traveled for an artist residency. Upon his arrival, Lavastida was arrested by State Security, who locked him up in the Villa Marista dungeon, where he stayed in isolation mostly, until September 20th. On this day, he was transferred to a house in an unknown location, waiting for the final details of his exile to be worked out.
Saying Lavastida was released is a euphemism, at best. In reality, his time in prison was commuted for another form of punishment. On September 25th, when he crossed the threshold of the house where he had been held captive the last four days he was in Cuba, Lavastida didn’t emerge a free man: he couldn’t decide where he was going or who he could communicate with, and it’s very possible – judging by his partner’s testimony, poet Katherine Bisquet – that he wasn’t even carrying his ID documents.
Still in State Security custody, Lavastida was taken on a sad trip in reverse to the same airport where he was handcuffed, three months earlier. At the airport, he was put on a plane heading towards Poland on a trip that would not have a return date, he was warned. Bisquet was banished with him.
Hamlet Lavastida and Katherine Bisquet are two of the last names on a long list – which we must reconstruct for historic memory – of Cuban citizens who challenge the status quo and have had to pay for their public expression of dissent with exile, whether that’s being kicked out of the country, like Lavastida and Bisquet, or in the case of journalist Karla Perez, never being allowed to return to the island. This list is a safeguard for those in power, the status quo.
On July 11th, and the days that followed, Cuban political history recorded unprecedented events. For the first time in at least six decades, a series of citizen-led protests took place across the country, which were then joined by political protests of Cuban emigres in different cities in the US, Latin America and Europe.
Protestors at many of the demonstrations held in the US, where most of the Cuban diaspora live, called for Cuba to be invaded. According to them, this was – and is – the swiftest way to achieve a long-awaited change in the country’s government, which they left for political reasons, and many are afraid to return to.
“In-va-sion” was shouted in chorus down Bergenline Avenue and in front of the Mayor’s Office in West New York city. Louder cries were heard in Washington D.C., in the White House’s surroundings, down some of the capital city’s avenues and in front of the Cuban Embassy.
No US administration in modern history – let’s say in the past 20 years – has shown any interest in invading Cuba. It’s hard to find in the grand scheme of global politics, a historic, strategic or even ethical reason to invade Cuba. However, this isn’t the case of a symbolic “invasion” of emigres.
I’m talking about returning and not disembarking. About passports and birth rights as weapons, and not grenades or bullets. About commercial flights full of emigres and humanitarian fleets, and not armies. We need to give Cuba back its potential for change, which entails the public expression of dissent with the status quo, who the ruling elite have managed to save themselves from this threat, for six decades, seeing it as a safeguard to stay in and consolidate their power. I’m talking about Havana airport as the Bastille.
Invading Cuba and destroying the list of banished citizens so that Hamlet Lavastida and so many others, can finally cross over the threshold towards freedom.