Rolando is 42 and his daughter is 19, they like to dance and on occasion they went to a discotheque together, although they don’t go any more. On December 16, 2008 they’d been at Golfito, a disco in Rio Cristal, left at 2:30 in the morning and got on the route 160 bus to go home. A group of guys who had also been at the discotheque got on the bus with them.
I remember that at this time people were playing rumba music on the buses, and also there were many attacks on passengers and drivers, mostly in the early morning. The police then decided to put an armed officer to keep order on every bus after dark. The idea, at least to me, was quite comforting (except for the gun), but what happens in Cuba is that civil order and military discipline are synonymous. People began to protest because now they couldn’t play rumba and once even Ciro was not allowed to play a few chords (without lyrics) on the guitar.
They were also playing a reggaetón and singing on Rolando’s number 160 bus. Most unfortunately, that night the police were dressed as civilians although they kept one thing from the uniform, the revolver. They began to argue with the guys and ordered them off the bus, the bus was full and when the atmosphere becomes angry people tend to panic; it was no different in this case. The police ordered the bus to stop but didn’t let the doors open, they wanted to round up the culprits so they couldn’t escape and into the early morning Boyeros. Everyone wanted to leave and it got ugly and one of the cops (there were two of them) pulled out his gun and fired it inside the bus several times.
The terror was uncontrollable, people flew out through the windows and eventually they opened the doors and everyone tried to leave at the same time. Rolando grabbed his eldest daughter and when he put a foot on the pavement he felt a sharp pain in his left leg and fainted.
The next day he woke up in intensive care in the military hospital, with two cops on either side and from far away he heard the voice of his mother berating those in uniform in the room. The shot had gone through the left thigh and exited, they had reconstructed his femoral artery and the doctor told him it was a “miracle” that he was alive. Five other people had also been injured.
He spent a year unable to work, they gave him leave without pay which he didn’t manage to contest, he tried to line up some attorneys himself but it didn’t go very far. Nothing happened to the cops who fired the gun and Rolando assured me that a few days later he read in an article in the newspaper Granma talking about how well the new measure of putting the police force on the buses was working… apparently some police officials had been decorated, according to the official organ of the Communist Party. Rolando stopped limping only a few months ago and he’s convinced of one thing: he and all of us are undefended in this country.
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.