The Paranoia of Cuban State Security: My Brief Stay in Mariel

Luis Rondon Paz

Street in Mariel.

HAVANA TIMES — The paranoia of the State Security agents who apprehended me in the town of Mariel surpassed all limits. Since when does one need to ask for permission and notify the Public Administration Council to take pictures of a public area? Apparently you do: that’s one of the first things I was personally told by the counter-intelligence officers who spoiled my brief stay in the locality.

What happened? I’ll try and narrate the facts exactly as they took place.

I’d been interested in visiting the town of Mariel for some time. Though I was tempted to make the trip down there, I saw no real reason to do so without knowing anyone in the town. Sometime later, I found out an old, childhood friend was living there and I immediately got in touch with him. I suggested we met in Havana, but he couldn’t come down here because he was preparing for a trip abroad.

We agreed to meet at noon, on October 27, near the Mariel bay area. There, we’d chat a while, take some pictures and remember the old times.

The next day, I got to the industrial part of the town quickly. I’d arrived rather early and felt somewhat bored. To pass the time, I decided to take a stroll around town and take some stills with my camera.

I reached one of the highest points of the locality and took pictures of the Rubens Palace, a building that, according to some of the locals, is in rather poor shape.

A little later, I enjoyed a delicious serving of rice, chicken and a salad for the price of 10 Cuban pesos at a private cafeteria.

After leaving the cafeteria, I continued to take pictures of the streets and houses. As I crossed one of the town’s main streets, I saw the façade of a building that caught my eye and took a picture of it. I then noticed that a person standing at the entrance of the building in question was calling me insistently.

When I approached him, he invited me to go into the house. I was distrustful at first, but went in after seeing a neighbor make a gesture indicating it was ok.

I took some pictures of the interior. The owner then insisted I went further into the house to take more pictures, but I replied I was done and got out of there as quickly as I could.

When I came out of the house, I was suddenly intercepted by two individuals who identified themselves as State Security agents.

The older of the two, whom I assumed was in charge, treated me in a way I couldn’t understand. He constantly showed me hostility and treated me as though I were a foreigner or an enemy. I kindly replied I was passing through the town and that the pictures were merely a keepsake of my visit.

When one of the agents – the hostile one – said that the photos I had taken could be used by the enemy, I felt like laughing in his face. I opted not to do that and to be the good boy that I am. It was futile, because, in the end, they took me to their headquarters, allegedly to verify my credentials and ask me a number of official questions.

It was a quarter after eleven – I still had time to see my friend, I thought, kidding myself that, in less than an hour, they’d see I was clean and that they were wasting their time with me. But no, I was in for the long haul!

I was detained in that place for more than three hours. To make matters worse, no one explained to me anything. Occasionally, someone would show up and ask me the same questions, time and time again: whether I was a journalist, why I was taking those photos, where I was from, etc, etc.

At three in the afternoon, another person took me to a room where I was asked the same questions the others had asked me before, in addition to some which I felt were out of place – but well, someone who has nothing to hide has nothing to fear, I thought. I wanted to get out of there, I was tired.

As the minutes went by, I felt the atmosphere start to get a bit sordid.

I was forced to lay all of my belongings on the table. My personal documents were also inspected. When I asked if what they were doing was legal, the agent replied:

“Would you rather we did this at the police station?” He used a threatening tone.

“Go head, check everything out,” I replied with a smile on my face. What choice did I have, anyway?

I was forced to erase some pictures I took and then had to show them my cell phone messages.

I had sent out an SMS some hours before explaining what had happened, and he asked me why and who had been informed of my detention. I replied that, for my own safety, it was important for someone to know where I was. I didn’t know what could happen to me or what time I’d be able to leave the town.

He then insinuated I could lose my cell phone, and I replied that was quite unlikely.

“Don’t underestimate the enemy,” he replied, again with a threatening tone.

“That’s what you’re here for, to protect me from that enemy,” I said with a smile on my face.

At the end of that “interview,” my belongings were returned to me.

I left Mariel in a lousy mood: humiliated and frustrated over having been unable to meet with my friend.


24 thoughts on “The Paranoia of Cuban State Security: My Brief Stay in Mariel

  • December 11, 2014 at 9:54 am
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    That is true. I was merely pointing out that those who released the report are pointing the finger at others, while ignoring their own roles in the affair. That too is a feature of a free democracy.

  • December 11, 2014 at 3:18 am
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    I never mentioned Brown or Garner. A lot of people are assaulted and or killed by police in north america for no reason whatsoever.

  • December 10, 2014 at 11:46 pm
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    What Feinstein knew and when she knew it may be debatable but that remains the lesser issue. When I said “address our problems head-on” I mean to say the release of this report is a bittersweet act of a democracy that makes mistakes but corrects its course in front of the whole world. It shames me that we engaged in torture but I swell with pride that we have the cojones to admit our mistakes and move on.

  • December 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm
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    Are you unaware of the differences between these cases? The differences are significant and say a lot about the nature of police power in the Cuba vs the US.

    Brown was stopped by police while walking down the middle of a street, carrying stolen property. When asked to get off the street, he assaulted the police officer. That’s a felony crime.

    Garner had been stopped by police for selling unlicensed cigarettes, a misdemeanour crime.

    While many have argued the police responded excessively in those cases, the police did have legitimate cause to stop the people in question.

    In Luis’s case above, he was photographing a picturesque street scene. That’s not a crime. Yet, the police were called, he was detained, threatened and interrogated for hours. If he had put up the slightest resistance, there is no doubt he would have been assaulted by the Cuban police. And the Cuban media would not have made a hero of him, as the US media has with Brown & Garner. In Cuba, President Castro has not gone on television and criticized police brutality, as President Obama did in the US.

    Again I must ask you: can you not see the differences?

  • December 10, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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    The same people who wrote the report on CIA torture in 2001 to 2003, are the same people who were on the congressional oversight committees who listened to the CIA briefings and approved of their work. Senator Feinstein offered no objections to the CIA’s activities at the time. Now, 11 years later, she releases a report which blames everything on the CIA, who were only following the orders of their political masters in Congress & the White House.

    Looking at it from that perspective, it does not seem honest to say Feinstein et al are addressing the problem head on with this scape-goating report.

  • December 10, 2014 at 11:58 am
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    A little perspective is good for your health:

    “A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries”

    The USA is among the least racist countries in the world. The UK & France are among the most racist in Europe, but India & Jordan are by far the most racist nations on earth.

    (Cuba was not covered in the survey, but most Latin countries ranked very low in racism, and one would expect Cuba to be consistent with that trend).

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/15/a-fascinating-map-of-the-worlds-most-and-least-racially-tolerant-countries/

  • December 10, 2014 at 5:19 am
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    I’ll take concern and questions in Cuba over being shot or choked to death in the US any day.

  • December 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm
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    You and both know my comment is painfully true and far from nonsense. While recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island and now the release of the CIA torture report clearly point to a highly flawed US system, the good news is that we allow our dirty laundry to air out for the world to see. We address our problems head on. I have been on the other side of the protest. That is a privilege that my Cuban brothers have not been allowed since the Castros stole Cuba. To say otherwise is worse than nonsense. It is an outright lie.

  • December 9, 2014 at 2:58 pm
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    Obviously Moses, you have always supported the ruling class and its agenda, and have never been on the other side at a protest. Otherwise, you wouldn’t say such nonesense.

  • December 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm
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    In the age of “Hands up ! Don’t shoot ! ” “I can’t breathe” and stuffing Muslims in little boxes until they go crazy, this is rather insipid cold war ear blather. Do all you Cuba-haters live in a vacuum ?

  • December 8, 2014 at 9:37 am
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    nothing appropriate in it, guess sensorship, when it suits, does exist.

  • December 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm
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    As they say in Spanish, donde? We see your original contribution but nothing further – or did Circles remove it?

  • December 7, 2014 at 10:01 am
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    I did respond 1 days ago

  • December 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm
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    Drop the straw man crap. Nobody claims the US is a land of perfect harmony and no racism. Contrary to your assertion that “no one in authority is prepared to speak out”, President Obama and numerous other politicians, pundits, celebrities and public figures have spoken out about racism. Do you live under a rock or something?

  • December 6, 2014 at 8:15 pm
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    Be interesting to see Moses whether pipefitter has the guts to respond on behalf of himself and his kind. Analyser says that the racism in he USA has become more subtle and covert. I guess he is referring to the difference between lynching and shooting.

  • December 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm
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    I have been detained twice by the PRN for my photography and taken to the station. Once was about 45 minutes in the station, the other about 1 1/2 hours.

    But, since I am American, I am afforded substantially much more rights and privileges than an average Cuban. I know the PRN has only 3 options: 1) send me to live next door to Alan Gross, 2) send me home with all the money I spend in Cuba still in my pocket, or 3) try to rattle my cage then send me along my way. I know the first two options are not viable, so I just sit and respond politely “no problema”, “no problema”. I answer all difficult questions with a polite “no comprende, poquito Espanol” I tell them they cannot see what I have been photographing since I shoot film and politely refuse to let them have my film. Finally they succumb to my politeness and send me on my way.

    Every time, I think how sorry I feel for the average Cubans in that situation who must live fearing the PNR and possibly their CDR rep.

  • December 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm
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    Clap trap about free speech? I invite you to stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House entry gate. It is less than 50 yards from the Presidential residence. You can scream at the top of your voice everything you seem to hate about the US, Barack Obama, Dallas Cowboys or whoever. The police will look at you for sure. They may even ask you if you need to seek professional help. But for sure you will not be arrested for “pre-criminal dangerousness” or “disrespecting authority”. Now go and try to do the same thing at the entry gate to Punto Cero where the ‘diapered Dictator’ Fidel Castro lives. You will be arrested and probably beaten. See the difference?

  • December 6, 2014 at 6:11 pm
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    pipefitter: Remember that President Obama, who you refer to as “black president”, is as much white as he is black. Calling him “black” is buying into the old racial view that any part negro makes a person negro. He is simply an American whose skin tone happens to be mixed.

    You seem quite hung up on the racial issue. Allow me to suggest that it is time to move on from that view.

  • December 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm
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    Quite right, despite all the clap trap about free speech, no racism and the land of perfect harmony, no one in authority is prepared to speak out and the existence of racism within the US of A has become more subtle and covert.
    Every civilised Country needs to be vigilant regarding security but the US of A take it to a different level. Something to do with poking a hornets nest and don’t expect people to react or retaliate.

  • December 5, 2014 at 11:23 pm
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    Yes pipefitter, that smouldering racism is detectable. President Barack Obama will no doubt do his best for “his kind” which will include all American citizens. The white people of the USA have every reason to be ashamed for their persecution of their fellow Americans who happen to have a black skin. Some of them have even had the gall to suggest that God supports their view. There is a wide world out there beyond the shores of the USA and it is watching to see whether those “white people” will waken up and consider what is in the best interests of their country including the children of their kind.

  • December 5, 2014 at 11:03 pm
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    “Agent Moses”, “…do for his kind.” Agent for whom? Who are ‘his kind’. Think carefully before you answer. Try to respond without using all your little “keyboard courage”.

  • December 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm
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    Agent Moses, we will see what a black president can do for his kind. My prediction is that he will do nothing. The president and almost all of the people in government do not want to rock the boat. The white people are the ones that have to change and by the looks of it that aint goin to happen anytime soon.

  • December 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm
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    Unlike Moses I don’t live in the US. In our country we don’t suffer the ills of US type racism, but when I am in Cuba I experience the racism there.
    The experience described by Luis is demonstrative of tthe practices of a Police State. No doubt a report upon his dangerous behaviour which could aid “the enemy” landed eventually upon the burdened desk of Alejandro Espin Castro as Head of all security for Cuba. Such reports are made to justify the heel kicking boredom of the agents.
    Doubtless Alejandro will emphasize to his father the essential nature of his role and by so doing reinforce the paranoia which lurks in Raul’s intricate mind. Cuba obviously needs its equivalent of the Stasi to control and prevent the activities of subversives like Luis.
    The report will be added to the personal record of Luis along with all the material suppiled by his local CDR. All of that information is stored on the regime’s computer program of every citizen – along with photograph.
    These are the benefits of Socialism. State Police and Luis’ experience merely replicate the practices of the USSR and the countries held in thral by that monster.

  • December 5, 2014 at 11:58 am
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    Given recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, NY, it is clear that there are overreaching government ‘agents’ everywhere. Here is the difference between Cuba and the US. In Cuba, after this insulting, at the least, and I believe abusive use of authority in Mariel, Luis has no recourse or means to seek redress against these state security agents. He can’t organize a street march in Mariel nor can he write a Letter to the Editor of Granma and expect it to be published. Worse yet, should he try to do any of these things, he risks even worse consequences. In the US, where rogue cops kill Black men with impunity, we have the right to take to the streets. We have an US Atty.General and even a President whose words lead us to believe that the problem of racist cops will be addressed. No place is perfect. I look forward to the day when Cubans can enjoy the basic human rights most people take for granted. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly would be a good start.

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