HAVANA TIMES — On Sunday morning (February 3), while the elections were being conducted in my country, almost a month after posting my article “This Government Cares for Its People,” I was walking down Obispo Street in Old Havana with two friends.
That was when I saw a policeman helping out a man who was missing a leg. He was helping him get back into his wheelchair, which he seemed to have fallen from, and also gave him the crutch he had dropped.
That was my first impression, or what I believed at first glance. One minute was enough for me to realize that this man — with his frail and rickety body — was struggling to free himself from the strong young police officer. It was a pathetic sight.
The man was like a rag doll against this officer, so helpless, when he started vomiting insults at the government.
The police officer then called for a squad car on his walkie-talkie for them to come and pick up this citizen, whose lack of respect was getting on my his nerves. We were all glad that he didn’t hit the man, though the officer needed to do something to calm him down. It was shameful to see that handicapped man in the wheelchair, helpless before the power, without being able to do anything.
I don’t have any photos of the incident because I didn’t have my camera with me, but even if I had, I don’t think I’d ever point it at a policeman.
My friends and I wondered what this frail man could have done, with his one weak leg and his worn out clothes almost hanging from his body. What could he have done to make it necessary for him to be taken down to the station?
If they were to take in every nut who shouted slogans against the government, in the street or on the bus, there wouldn’t be room in the prisons.
What’s more, the man only began insulting the government when the police officer began moving him, without him being able to avoid it.
I’ve seen him on the same street before, in his wheelchair, silent. Maybe they went after him for something he didn’t deserve. His appearance gives one plenty to talk about, but what harm could this poor guy have done?
This shows the not so pretty face of Cuban life, without makeup. Behind the posters announcing “we’re happy here,” and despite the triumphant slogans, and regardless of the elections in which the vast majority of people participate (they have no choice but to give their support to the revolution, otherwise they’ll single themselves out), there are Cubans who can’t buy virtually anything with their miserable wages. They have no choice but to beg.
As I walked away with my friends, I remembered the interview with Rosa Esther and her certainty in telling me that this government cares for its people, her appreciation because Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal told her she didn’t have to pay taxes for being photographed.
What’s the difference between Rosa Esther and this gentleman who’s missing a leg? Is it necessary for him to lose both of them to live peacefully off of what people give him?
Or is it that the difference is that Rosa Esther wears attractive clothes, speaks well of the government and is proud of her last name (Castro), while this man does nothing to hide his poverty, and if they screw with him he’ll blame the government?
I don’t know if there’s any country without beggars, without people who are disabled from war or since birth. But here, the party line says no one in Cuba need’s to beg. Instead, reality must adapt to that discourse.
But all of this made me angry over my own impotence and having to speculate. Nothing assured me that they had taken in this man for begging, until Wednesday, when I came back to Obispo Street and again saw the man in his wheelchair. He was being pushed by a friend who didn’t want to be photographed.
I think he was wearing the same clothes as on Election Day. I noticed he had difficulty speaking. His friend told me he had been prohibited from begging, which is why he had been picked up that Sunday. But there he was again, in his chair, still in the struggle.