HAVANA, Cuba — The morning of the 28th, there were fewer people on the street than any other Tuesday. Also it was notable that the flow of cars on a street as central as 23rd, in El Vedado, had diminished.
Who can find out what is in the heart of the Cuban people, subjected to political propaganda 24 hours a day?
The Malecon, almost deserted. Two twenty-somethings talk about the Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as an opportunity for Latin American integration. They speak of the collective, not of the individual. They said that it is about “an opportunity to show the world how much we have tried to rectify some things.”
A man of 40 complains that beer is missing and he associates it with the international event.
Going down O street, another man of 30 laments that the host only tries to fix how Cuba presents itself and accepts that there is another invisible part in permanent crisis. He is not aware of the alternative Forum that the opposition was going to hold that same day.
No one agrees to say his name.
Also on O street, between 15th and 17th, there is an artisan fair, selling the same things as always: pieces of wooden sculpture, costume jewelry of nickel and bone, stamps with the Cuban flag, berets and t-shirts printed with the Korda photo of Che Guevara. But no seller wants to talk to me of his expectations with respect to CELAC. Only one customer, a native, says that he hopes the economic situation will improve.
Leaving the fair, a lady signals me to look some meters away at a man dressed in plainclothes who does not move from the corner. She explains to me that he is part of the State Security force that watches over the CELAC Summit. Every once in a while the man gets out a radio transmitter-receiver and speaks; he seems to be reporting what is happening around him. For a minute I think that I am going to meet with Manuel Cuesta Morua in the dungeons of the Fifth Police Station.
Young women, dressed in the olive-green uniform of the Ministry of the Interior and orange vests, appear on some corners, alternating with the uniformed officers of the PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police). These latter are not too remarkable because they are a daily presence in the streets, patrolling.
A system that requires individuals to deny themselves to be able to survive, in a society that punishes non-conformists, is being irrigated with the impunity that it is granted by 33 regional heads of State, the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, and the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, silent about the indefensible situation in which the Cuban people live in matters of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights.
The internal opposition had conceived of Democratic Forum II in International Relations and Human Rights, as an event parallel to the CELAC summit, a Forum that yours truly should attend. The political police incarcerated the leaders and organizers, and in that way the project was dismantled.
According to information offered by the Cuban Commission of National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDDRN), more than 200 arrests have been reported in the last days, some in the nature of house arrest and others in police jail cells, throughout the whole Island. In all the cases it is about arbitrary detentions to restrain free movement or to impede the activists from meeting.
If they insist on selling again the idea of socialism as a panacea for eradicating poverty, Cubans from the Island have something more to show the world: not only the devastated country, police control, State violence, but also our souls which have been still more poor — practically incapable of understanding and defending themselves — after 55 years without the desired liberty.
Cubanet, January 29, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz
Translated by mlk.