Yoani Sánchez just told me: “There’s a performance, it’s going to be good and I’m going to participate, be there at the Wilfredo Lam Center at 8:00 tonight.”
I never could have imagined finding a podium and a microphone ready for everyone, for each one of us. The place was mobbed with people; to make it to the front row I had to squeeze through the crowd saying please, I want to reach the microphone. It all started with a woman who, with a white dove on her left shoulder, made faces without emitting a sound, while two kids, dressed in Ministry of the Interior uniforms, counted down to the end of her time, and threw her back again into the mute crowd.
Immediately after, Yoani came and she spoke of the blogosphere and of censorship, to total silence, and when she finished there was a lot of applause, people knew her and were happy. Then I ran up, I was very nervous; I hadn’t been in front of microphone or had an audience listening to me since I was 9 when, dressed as a Pioneer, I stormed a CDR meeting to read an incomprehensible statement. Over time, I developed a particular phobia about this device that only serves to mask the reality of my country.
I prepared a speech on the way that I read with a lump in my throat.
“One day may we all have all the minutes of the day to say anything we want in front of the microphone. And also, may those who have the opportunity today, take a minute, or even less, to speak the truth.”
I got down, though I could have said more, and then Reinaldo Escobar got up, he didn’t have time to finish before the “soldiers” called time and pushed him off the dais; we heard the last of his speech from the floor. The time stretched and no one else got up, people were frightened, an artist went and said:
“Me, what I have, is a lot of fear.”
I walked toward the podium again and added: “One day, freedom of speech in Cuba won’t be a performance.”
I remember other speeches:
Claudio Fuentes asked for a vote: then he spoke of the dictatorship and political prisoners and asked everyone to raise their hands if they agreed with changing things, and almost everyone raised their hands.
A Puerto Rican said that even though he lived in a colony, in his country there was freedom of expression and he asked that the microphone be left open for 24 hours.
An American man: “I don’t speak Spanish but: Long live change!”
With a black bag on his head Reinaldo Escobar came up a second time: “I think this should be banned.”
Hamlet Labastida, a plastic artist, called for democracy and that one of them would come up, at least one.
Ciro Díaz was going to sing “El Comandante” but the time had expired and it wasn’t the boys dressed like soldiers but a sullen soundman who walked up and shouted, “It’s over!” while giving orders to those behind him, “Disconnect now!”
A sizable audience kept shouting, “Ciro! Ciro! Ciro!” like it was a Porno Para Ricardo concert and they were asking for another song.
The Rapid Response Brigade was poor, only two people, and I supposed they felt strange, a clear minority and without the power on the platform, a completely new experience for them.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.