I have, at this very moment, enormous doubts about what shape my words should take to recount and testify about what happened last Friday, November 20, 2009, at the already hot corner of 23rd and G. I wanted to record, journalistically, through the lens of my video camera a verbal duel. It was supposed to be and was proposed to be, more than anything else, the beginning of a totally peaceful conversation between two people: REINALDO ESCOBAR and AGENT RODNEY. The meeting was intended to clarify a case of abuse and violence that happened two weeks earlier, carried out by agents of the ever more covert and surreptitious State Security, against Yoani Sanchez, wife of a person who at least attempted an ethical meeting for the exchange of words and opinions of various kinds.
The doubts that accompany my words come also with fears that will dilute and control said words, with the sole desire of avoiding the self-censorship which would prevent the reader from absorbing the modest truth gathered in by my senses. I was a citizen who participated in an activity that was transformed into an odd festival of trolls. Even when they tried to petrify me with threats disguised as sweet tips for a future of dark freedoms, the young man warning me that I was going to get arrested, and even asking me if I was quite ready for this. Fears that would only cease to be a burden to the extent that one denounces every violation of the most elemental rights of oneself and others. I thought of the old saying, “He who holds the leg is as guilty as he who kills the cow,” knowing I needed to avoid holding the leg, and much less giving a sidelong shy kiss to the butcher, his spotless apron stained with blood. And now, to the point; I am always at risk of boring people with my extensive flourishes.
I was arrested while filming the detention of Silvio Benitez (who remained at the side of Reinaldo Escobar the whole time, as they were being crushed by the frenzied horde). In the final moments of the event as I was inside the car taking me to the police station, they seized the memory card from my video camera. It contained all the images I had taken as an historical documentary of the facts. Still, today, the 22nd, they have not returned it to me, violating with impunity the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
It seems that they do not know that the Cuban government claims itself a magnificent signer of the declaration, so I suspect that either Raul Castro has not properly informed his subordinates to enforce the above in full, or they are completely crushing us with this marvelous clause, without mercy, with total impunity, and shitting on the idea. An odd way to proceed.
I include the notification on the part of the officer or agent who handled my case, “Your images will be returned,” although in the final moments I was informed that the memory card had momentarily gone astray, they asked for my vote of confidence and said I would be advised by telephone regarding its return. I will wait for the promised event and my patience, necessarily, is infinite, although it is often tinged with cautious sarcasms.
On reaching the police station they explained to me that I was detained there only and exclusively to protect me from the reaction of the impassioned people, in open battle against a minority group of people who want to ask to converse on equal terms. Reinaldo Escobar and the few friends who were with him until the end, were cataloged by the group of trolls disguised as The People, as mercenaries, worms, counterrevolutionaries etc. What strange sector of The People is this? Who mix up an act of political questioning with the deafening carrying on of carnival characters with their fancy outfits and props, and even a band playing popular music? A group designed to quench the sound that the cameras and audio equipment need to record, and as a body to confuse the purpose of the event with their presence in the viewfinders. So that the foreign press as well as the official and independent press who, with the same objective in common, all have the need and the right to record the facts. Such a calumny against the concept of The People, as well as against that other group, which we may call ourselves, those without a group, those who for thinking and expressing themselves differently must be, for the moment, excluded from all acceptance and respect, and yet who irredeemably form part of this total contradiction that is Cuba.
What the law enforcement officials and police have decided to call THE PEOPLE, is not, I believe, a representation of all of it. Nor do I believe that the real Cuban people have a tradition of behaving in this way. I must report that at no time did I feel that this mob was on the point of violating my physical integrity, even though some people were punched, severely pushed and mobbed. At the police station we shared glances and handshakes although they prohibited us from talking and deprived us of our cell phones. These prohibitionary measures, applied to “protected persons” from among a mass so extreme in their conduct, I don’t think to be organically related to the sullen treatment of us, as victims, in that unit. It is really too bad that I lost the images captured by my lens, which would show this to the fullest. Hopefully other cameras have material that will reveal part of what happened.
While the whole mob surrounded and nearly asphyxiated Reinaldo Escobar and friends who clung precariously to each other for their mutual protection, we could see a group of the National Revolutionary Police, stationed across the street in small groups of two, three, four and even larger numbers, contemplating the obvious brawl of cries and aggression without taking part. It seems a reading of the previous orders included turning a blind eye to the sector of The People who are specifically expecting their help, and that the repressive forces will be forgiven an act equally repressive, with a total inability to listen before making violent determinations and forming opinions. The portion of The People who commit an atrocity will not be punished or reprimanded, rather what they do is justified: unfortunate but necessary. As in the eighties with the migrants leaving through the Port of Mariel, The People incited by everyone knows who, launched their repudiation rallies, egg-throwing parties, workplace exclusions and beatings at those who decided to leave, while our law enforcement never issued any kind of citation against this kind of action nor called for wisdom and respect.
On Friday, like Claudia Cadelo and many others, I met the wave of terror, saw how dear is the cost of freedom of thought and its direct organic expression. I have known, also, individuals having, though it is a minimum of power when protected by natural justice, the power of knowing oneself is not alone, of having something to say and of being disposed to say it by whatever media or channel possible. Today I have reaffirmed, more than ever, that every decision or idea has the highest price and whether you like it nor, you have to pay in one currency or another. Life always wins out over us, even when one contemplates within it a variety of successes.
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.