By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – I’m going to tell you a story that happened recently to a neighbor of mine. No one famous, he is little more than one more Habanero traveling across our capital every day.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t want his name known (readers will understand why when they reach the end of his story), but I think it’s worthwhile because his is not an isolated case.
My neighbor, let’s call him Luis X, was in his house on Sunday, tranquilly watching soccer’s Euro Cup finals when he heard a lot of noise in the street. He went to the window and saw a sea of people heading to the malecón, shouting “Freedom,” and “Homeland and Life.”
For those who are unaware of the reality in Cuba over the past decades, it’s worth mentioning that demonstrations are not permitted, not even nonviolent ones. Although the Constitution does not prohibit them, and they are rare, it is very rare that people go into the streets in crowds if they are not convened by the government. The only cases that come to mind are those of the Mariel boat lift in 1980, and those of August 1994, also at the Havana’s malecón. Both crises were resolved with massive migrations. That’s to say the government got rid of the problem by ridding itself of the problematic people. However, July 11th was something else.
Let’s get back to what happened that Sunday. Luis went to his window and was surprised by what he was seeing, but aware that it was an historic moment he left just as he was: in shorts and flip-flops, cell phone in hand, to record what was happening.
He accompanied the protest like just one more, although without shouting slogans, while he filmed what was happening around him with his cell phone.
However, soon he saw that people were not marching as he had supposed, but they had begun to run in all directions, and he realized that a group of people with clubs who were accompanied by police and members of the special forces, were hitting the unarmed protesters.
His natural instinct was to run but being in flip-flops he couldn’t go forward as fast as he wanted and a group of four persons caught up with him and began to hit him without even asking what he was doing there. The first four were joined by two more, as if they were confronting the Olympic wrestler Mijain Lopez.
After growing tired of hitting him and leaving to look for a new victim, they threw him in a truck together with dozens of other young people and they were taken to the police station located on Zanja Street.
This was Sunday and they kept him there until Friday. Every day he was interrogated by different people, always with the same questions: “What was he doing there? Who had convoked him? Did someone pay him? He always gave the same answer, that he was there for curiosity, that he wasn’t yelling anything, that no one had convoked him, much less paid him.
At the station, they didn’t go back to hitting him, but the beating he had received was such that when he was released Friday, nearly a week later, he still had bruises on his face and body. On top of this, no one had known where he was. His mother was desperate, and no one told her where they were holding Luis.
He wasn’t even permitted a phone call to let his family know, and like the majority of Cubans he didn’t even know what rights he had, and he didn’t demand them as he should have.
Here I’m pausing to note that those who kidnapped him, because this doesn’t have any other name, they do know the laws, and they constantly violate them when dealing with anonymous citizens like Luis. If you do a little Internet search you’ll see that the singer Yomil was not even detained during the demonstration, and the YouTuber Dina Stara was permitted to make a telephone call. The rest have no rights, apparently they don’t deserve them.
Finally, on July 16th, Luis could return home and his mother’s soul returned to her body, but the experience he lived through will leave its mark for the rest of his life. He didn’t want his name known to avoid reprisals, but his story is certainly -in more or less detail-, what others of the 300 Cubans already reported missing on July 11th went through.
Caution: the number is taken from the initial NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, and needs to be multiplied considerably. Even Luis was not on that list, because his mother at least had the sense to look at the HRW list on the Internet.
Surely the explosion on July 11 won’t be the last one, but it will take a while before Cubans once again arm themselves with the bravery to go into the streets, after the repression they suffered. The same person who gave the order to attack [President Diaz-Canel] is talking now about dialogue, while hundreds of people (to be conservative) are still prisoners or disappeared.
If they truly want to listen to others, they have to guarantee that they can express themselves without fear of reprisals, without their counterparts brandishing clubs against the unarmed, without people fearing they’ll lose their jobs or university careers for their opinions, and without feeling that the streets are not theirs.
I repeat that it will be a while before anything similar happens, and known faces will have to join, not on social media but in the streets to protect their fellow citizens.
The mothers, wives, and daughters of those who are rebuked will need to come out, to see if the forces of repression will beat them, too. The international press correspondents will need to document what happens, even those who are members of the Communist Party.
The Catholic Church will need to fulfill its function to care for the community and heed the convocation, not to shout for one or another cause, but to assure that the cries of both sides are being heard.
Diplomats and organizations with offices in Cuba will need to leave their comfortable offices and to be there as witnesses to what can happen. Don’t worry, they won’t do to any of you what they did to Luis.