A Freed Black Man / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

I met Pedro Cruz Mackenzie when we were both taking university prep classes. It was during those difficult years which came to be known as the Special Period. In between classes we would entertain ourselves by collecting oranges, bananas, and any other source of food we could get to ease that hunger which was so common at that time. His academic talent and his skills for “sneaking” into math and chemical experiments earned him much fame in that place. Upon finishing the course, he was one of the recipients of a Medical scholarship.

Many years later, our paths once again crossed. He did not become a doctor, and he was not able to become a faculty member of any university. He soon grew tired of so much misery, of getting to class with ripped shoes, and of not counting on any real support to inspire him to study. He abandoned his strictness midway through his Cuban university career. Now, he clandestinely sells merchandise on the beach, he gets his hands on any souvenir that he can, trying to sell them in order to purchase clothes for his kids. Whenever the opportunity arises, he runs errands and delivers merchandise from one place to another.

However, he has also joined the struggle to denounce Human Rights violations in Cuba. While the police have him under constant watch, he denounces Cardet, the chief of the Police Sector in the neighborhood of Melilla in Santa Lucia, Holguin. Cardet is a soldier in charge of prosecuting disaffected youths, and Pedro tells me that, in conjuction with the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) of Yamagual, he has taken note of all those young people who “don’t want” to work agriculture or construction for 8 hour days for just 6 Cuban pesos. The officers claimed that such youths will shortly go to trial.

“I don’t have the list of all the names, with myself included,” Mackenzie tells me on some notes written on a yellowish paper, “some are too scared to give me their names. But as soon as I find them out, I’ll send them to you or tell you over the phone — you can be sure of that,” he concludes.

The thing is that my friend from back during the difficult years, Pedro Cruz Mackenzie, lives at the entrance of the Tourist Pole of Guardalavaca, in Holguin. This Pole is a special reserve for foreigners who decide to vacation in this area of Cuba. The strict police control, the lack of employment for those who are not trustworthy enough in the eyes of the regime to be able to work in their hotels, along with the sharp contrast in lifestyles between hospitality and tourism employees and those who do not have access to such currency or tips given by tourists is a very difficult and incomprehensible fact. “If something happens to me (he is referring to being jailed) please denounce the situation quickly so that my wife and kids can be visited by some of the Human Rights people,” that is one of the final phrases written in the letter by my friend Pedro, another one who has decided not to wear the shackles of this modern slavery.

Translated by Raul G.

January 21 2011