14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 February 2019 — I chose the place at random. A polling place in my neighborhood where I could attend, as an observer, the process of counting the votes. It was about six o’clock in the evening when I went to the entrance of the building, a twelve-story concrete block located on Lombillo Street. The voting was about to end and I waited outside, talking on the phone with a friend and finalizing some details about work.
The evening was warm and a reddish sun glimmered through the windows of the entrance. The count began. They asked me if I lived there as a requirement to observe. According to the current Electoral Law, any citizen can be present at the counting anywhere in the national territory, regardless of how near or far it is from their home. So I invoked the legislation, showed my identity card, wrote down my information and they emptied the ballot box on the table.
At one point, a young man arrived with a white envelope that seemed to be carrying some ballots. I thought it was votes from people with mobility problems, old people or other voters who had not been able to come to the premises. I asked the origin of the documents and right there detonated the ill-will. A man, who was not at the counting table, started shouting at me that I had no right to inquire about that and that I had asked “the wrong question.”
I responded by saying that he was not part of the Electoral Board and that the question I had raised had to be answered by those who were a part of it. The tension in the air could have been cut with a knife. One of those who reviewed the votes couldn’t control the unceasing trembling of his hands, and “a neighbor” located at the other end of the table kept taking pictures of me. Then another man approached me, wearing a striped sweater and with a mustache.
“Come with me outside,” he told me. I flatly refused, because I knew that as long as I was in the polling place I was, at least, a little more protected. “I do not go outside with strangers,” I snapped. Then came another who “rubbed” my arms in a show of confidence but started pulling me towards the door and I told him to stop touching me. Then, they told me that I had to stay “as far away from the table as possible.” I shut up and waited while the process went on.
Nothing else interrupted the counting, with 400 votes for Yes, 25 for No and 4 blank ballots, a woman stood a few inches from my ear and shouted with all her might “Long live the Revolution.” Thus the true act of repudiation was detonated, a choreography that I know so well that I had anticipated it with certainty.
I refused to sign the act as an observer because during the entire time I was there I felt harassed, threatened and not respected in my right to witness the counting. I perceived that they wanted to make me pay dearly for having dared to attend.
I left the premises, with a score of people shouting at my back. The slogans were repeated, they cheered the process, they accused me of not loving my country and a group of children joined the hullabaloo without really knowing why they were there. A woman dressed in white, a practitioner of Santeria, was confused with a Lady in White and also received some insults.
The man who filmed, disciplined, did not stop holding the phone in front of my face, so I took advantage of “the coverage” to claim my right and reject the Constitution. The shouts continued; an egg – perhaps thrown from a balcony – fell near one of my shoes. The sun was now completely hidden. Election day ended and some of those who had repudiated me crossed the sidewalk to buy some beers in a cafe across from the building.
I had just lived an unforgettable experience as a citizen, voter and journalist.
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