To go to the Film Festival, or simply to walk along 23rd Street lately, is to be surprised by the ever-increasing presence of military personnel. They are not only police, now they are accompanied by young men dressed in guard uniforms, or in olive green. Possibly cadets or boys mobilized in the Military General Service?
I find out about some incidents through the comments of friends and acquaintances: repudiation rallies, the cancellation of cultural events, even those promoted on television such as the Poetry Without End Festival, celebrated for some years in Alamar. To top it off, they tell me about the offensive and humiliating shouts. Citizens have even been hit as a part of the response by authority, uniformed or not, to silence civic demonstrations.
But beyond what they tell me, this weekend I could, in just two nights, verify close-up and with my own eyes incidents that would shock any passerby.
One of them happened at the entrance to La Rampa movie theater and ended with the cancellation of the film Antichrist, eagerly awaited by so many. Every night, in their zeal to control the entry of the crowd, they schedule some few police along with the military mentioned above. This Friday, a shoving match erupted between them and the public, with everyone more worked up than on previous nights: Aggressive face-offs, laughter on seeing how one agent, unable to dominate the crowd, goes red in the face, somebody falls down, even a few flip-flops are lost on the ground. Finding there are not enough of them, they call for reinforcements to try to control the crowd and another nearby patrol car comes with a great number of guards of all types.
For unknown reasons, they take a boy of about 20 over to the patrol car and search his bag. Some friends respectfully demand that they explain why they’re doing it, that they must say where and why they are taking him, and in addition someone nearby asks for the name and number of the officer. They are joined by more people, even younger, demanding to know the cause of the detention. Many of them start shouting at the police that it is an abuse of power, a violation of the constitution, it is abuse they shout. A young man from the Interior Ministry asks who shouts such a thing to show him what abuse is; I’m perplexed at such a stupid swaggering warning.
The official, a man of about 40 or so, seems like he was very bothered by the course of what was taking shape in this part of the street. He changes and I see him say something to the detained young man in an aggressive manner, in his face you can see only anger, the young man answers something and the same policeman attacks him, pushes him forcefully, almost beating him, into the patrol car and takes him away. The friends ask the group gathered around to march together to where they suppose him to have been taken, to demand the young man’s rights. In the end it petered out, and as I said, the film was not shown that night.
The following day, rather late, leaving the theater and walking along 23rd and G to return home, I am amazed to see the wall recently lined with stones to prevent people from sitting and meeting there. But right at the edge of the street is something even more surprising. There are five cops, one of them with a guitar in his hand, which seems very strange, because his face shows no thought of entertaining us with a tune. It turned out that he wanted to confiscate it from one of the boys of a group around him. After being there nearly half an hour hearing the pleas and complaints grow, they called for a patrol car that ended up taking the guitar and its owner to the local police station.
It’s incredible to see how something as innocent as playing a guitar on the corner where part of the youth of Havana gather, is a criminal act, and even more that they assume the right to confiscate the object of amusement for these boys. That something so innocent as sitting on a wall and playing songs in the street could threaten authority is something to worry about. What will they do? Will they confiscate all the guitars of those who while away their nights, and those of others in the city? Will they constantly provoke the impotence of some and the challenge of many and shout in their faces the abuse of power they are constantly committing?
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.