By Enix Berrio Sarda
HAVANA TIMES – Even though it was drizzling, people, a lot of different kinds of people, were running about like crazy ants, constantly coming and going, in Monte Street’s arched passageways. According to my watch, it was 10:30 AM.
Five minutes later, I saw him get out of an almendron (1950’s Chevrolet collective taxi), he looked up and eagerly looked for me. I signaled to him with my right hand. He crossed the street hurriedly, in a diagonal.
What’s up, super uncle! He exclaimed laughing as he drew nearer.
Kisses. Hugs. He was the same as always.
How are you? I asked concerned.
Everything’s OK, you know… in the thick of it all…
Laughter. We hugged each other again. This time, there weren’t any beers or reasons to celebrate like we had done on so many other occasions when we used to see each other in our neighborhood, where he grew up. I needed to hear his version about what had happened, going beyond what had done the rounds on social media.
His face turned serious. Slowly and without looking away from me, he explained everything to do with his arrest by the political police on November 6th just a few minutes before the publicized press conference to explain details of the #00 Havana Arts Biennial to citizens, which he is organizing along with Yanelys Nunez as an alternative to the official Havana Biennial that the government postponed. Then, downgrading what happened and in very few words, he told me about his time in jail for three days in police stations because he had been charged with “receiving” (in this case illegal building materials), a trending criminal act among Cubans who dissent or oppose Cuba’s Communist Party.
Are you afraid? I asked still staring straight into his eyes.
His frown translated his surprise. And there was more. In a matter of seconds, I witnessed the greatest transformation I had ever seen in my nephew Luis Manuel’s face. With his face hardened and his eyes squinting, he slowly said, so that I wouldn’t have any doubts about what he was going to say:
My dear uncle, I have no fear in me. They’re going to have to kill me.
I nodded. He was talking seriously, there was no doubt about that. This was no longer the teenage student. the charismatic and mischievous nephew who used to share his dreams of being a world-renowned athlete and then an artist who would go on to provoke even God’s envy or wrath.
Next to me, there was a young man who had clearly grown up in a political sense to the point that he was completely convinced of the historic need to change Cuba’s socio-political reality. And there’s a dear price to pay for that, but there wasn’t the slightest trace of fear in him.
Cuba’s political police don’t know that in arresting and psychologically abusing Luis Manuel, the person he is and as a citizen, the only thing they did was stir the lion that was sleeping behind his apparent condition of an irreverent but inoffensive artist. They underestimated him because they didn’t know about his inveterate nature.
They have also underestimated him because they have made him a part of their arbitrary modus operandi so as to try and keep a power that is falling apart and because, in their ignorance, they don’t recognize the great capacity art and artists have to change society, which goes beyond their discourse and political propaganda’s historicist rhetoric.
Luis Manuel is not a criminal. He is a young Cuban who being an artist is a consubstantial part of his nature as a human being. That’s why he doesn’t ask the authorities’ permission to abide by his social obligation to think, argue, dissent, support or fight every reactionary thing that stands in the way of social progress. That’s how he sees things and that’s why he is acting as a result. This doesn’t make him antisocial, but rather a responsible artist who tries to denounce and heal the social issues that affect Cuba with his work. Ills which are the result of the government’s irresponsible behavior over 58 years, committing the social atrocity of mutilating civic society and denying them the social change that millions of Cubans call for.
Cuba is going through one of the most critical moments in its history. When the Cuban regime represses every individual and collective act of dissent, afraid of the collapse that lingers on the horizon, the “They’re going to have to kill me” comment that Luis Manuel made gains a radical and politically-charged connotation that transcends his position as an artist.
They arrested him again a few days ago. I waited for him at the police station exit. This time the political police’s Liutenant Colonel ignored the game of “building materials” ot the “call for the #00 Biennial” and threatened him, without beating around the bush, to put him in prison “for being a counter-revolutionary”. That is to say, the Cuban regime, using its repressive force, has defined itself: Luis Manuel is its enemy and it will try to destroy him without any further consideration.
The Regime doesn’t know it, but they’re going to have a hard time with him because he won’t let up his political struggle for a different Cuba. They will try to accuse Luis Manuel of financial and moral crimes that he hasn’t committed, as is to be expected, like they have done with the so many others who have dissented or stood up to them.
I warn them, and I’m only doing this because I believe I know my nephew quite well, unless they want to murder him or convert him into a psychotic nutcase, they won’t be able to defeat him. Powerless, the official, her superiors and all of Cuba’s political police will watch on as he grows as a leader, as a hero or as a martyr of the real opposition in civic society that promotes change.
As for me, I no longer have anything left to teach him, just to share his destiny, which is my own as well as that of hundreds of thousands of fellow Cubans, and to support him unconditionally like we swore to do when we were sat down on the steps of a doorway on Monte Street in one of the most serious and unforgettable chats, blessed, like God would have wanted, with cristal and bucanero beers. What happens to one of us, is the other’s affair.
In this bloody battle, I will no longer stand by his side as the uncle who started him off reading about art and encouraged his first steps in art galleries that consolidated his artistic stature. Not any more. I am and will be his companion in this struggle, his brother in this libertarian fight against the current authoritarian, single-party and reactionary dictatorship that is the Cuban state and government.
We know that the fight for a democratic Cuba is hard but our victory isn’t far off and it will come at the hands of who are young today, like it has always been and should be. Therefore, opting for my brother Luis Manuel is to opt for the future of our Homeland. I will do this for him, my children and the memory of those who have died among whom are my comrades, sisters and brothers, of course, who have fought and fallen in their struggle against the Regime. There is nothing more sacred than that.