Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — I took the photo from a prudent distance, as the incident took me by complete surprise. A reporter armed with equipment more powerful than my modest cell phone was also covering all developments.
Absorbed by her work, much like the director of a chorus standing before her disciplined pupils, paying no attention to her audience, a small, robust, dark-skinned woman was directing the women’s actions. “Laura Pollan lives!” the persistent and daring women yelled in unison, raising their fists and bringing together rose-colored gladioli.
People started to gather around the women. Thankfully, the surprise demonstration wasn’t met with aggression. Those gathered began to comment under their breath, as though the people speaking were expressing the fear in themselves, a fear these government opponents had long rid their minds of.
A woman said: “There they are again, drawing attention to themselves. The black woman in charge is Bertha Soler, the one who takes those trips to the United States, the one who handles the dough.”
A gentleman said: “They probably just came out of the Caridad church. Looks like they’ve had a change of headquarters. Before, they used to go to the Santa Rita de Acacia church in Vedado.”
A street vendor remarked: “I have no problems with the law, I’ve got a license. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’d be better to let them be, to ignore them. After all, a bunch of women with flowers in their hands aren’t a threat to anyone.”
There are details lost on most Cubans, whose one source of information are the State-controlled media. The group in question were the Ciudadanas por la Democracia (“Women Citizens for Democracy”), a splinter group that broke off from the organization originally founded by Laura Pollan, when her daughter rebelled against the leadership of the abovementioned Bertha Soler.
People start gossiping, the spectacle becomes more intense, some pulled out their phones. I take my pictures, keeping to myself. I didn’t dare join the debate around me. I could lose my Samsung phone if I say a few words too many. You never know who’s who in Cuba.
A man claims to know some of the women from his neighborhood. He adds that “nothing’s happening in the home of the late Laura Pollan.” I ask myself: “How many of the passersby who are stopped dead in their tracks by these courageous women have access to the Internet? What do people in Cuba actually know about these unwavering ladies, dressed in the sum total of all colors?”
It’s clear spectators have very little information at their disposal to judge this unusual event. This is coupled with the typical way in which things get tangled up when gossips get together.
I think to myself: “It’s hard to judge them. I’m not in their shoes. I regret their internal differences; I reject a number of declarations made by the defiant Bertha Soler. But, in the end, they seem to have taken the floor.”
It’s painful to hear people offer opinions about things they know nothing about. These people may be upset over their daily problems, but they are unable to identify the origin of their day-to-day ordeals.
The woman talks about the “dough” they make and ends up accusing them of being “mercenaries”, sell-outs, untalented drama-queens who take to the street-stage in exchange for a handful of US dollars. How many dollars do they get, I wonder, for being stabbed, for getting a good beating, for enduring people’s contempt and askew glances, often worse than a punch to the face?
I looked in several dictionaries and found several meanings of the oft-repeated word: mercenary. (From the Latin mercenar?us). adj. Of a troop that, in exchange for money, serves a foreign power at war. || 2. Of a person who receives payment for their work or services.
Women armed with flowers do not constitute the battalion mentioned by the dictionary. In addition, we are not at war with other States. And, according to the second meaning offered by the Spanish Language Royal Academy, nearly all of us in this world, workers without properties, are mercenaries.
The Ladies in White are opponents of the political system in Cuba. They defy the government. Few applaud their actions in public, many approve of them in silence, others go as far as attacking them physically and there is no shortage of those who are against them – that summarizes the complex panorama of Cuban public opinion on this issue.
Why the acts of life-threatening aggression? Their opponents can and ought to demonstrate, within the legal framework of the socialist state they respect.
The dilemma pointed out by the street vendor remains: to let them walk around the streets of Havana, ignoring them. The problem is fear, the suspicion that one day, people may start paying attention.
I saluted them from a prudent distance, raising my thumb in approval, not expecting an answer.
In Cuba, many people sprinkle salt on some fresh fruits to make their flavor more pronounced.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had gone out to buy a pineapple and a package of salt.
Vicente Morín Aguado [email protected]