By Wilfredo Vallín Almeida
One fine day the decision was made to sell cell phones to ordinary, everyday Cubans.
To many of us, who had never been “authorized” to have a landline in our house, they are now selling phones … cellulars.
But, like so many other things that are hard to understand in this country, cell phones proved to be one of those insoluble contradictions, because before their appearance in society, it was possible to keep many “awkward” events hushed up. Now thousands of people walk down the street with them and it is not so easy to maintain the “secrecy” of some events.
So, if there is an altercation in a baseball stadium, “alternative” telephones are there to quickly let everyone know what happened, and occasionally include an on-scene video.
If a person is arrested on a public street (ordinarily without an arrest warrant) as usually happens to those on their way to journalism courses, there is always someone to take snapshots of what occurred, or to make a “live” report from their location giving details and identifying the patrolmen involved and even the license plate numbers of the police cars.
But as every action is followed by a reaction (at least that’s what we learned in physics), the police tactic has been to remove the license plate whenever there is danger of it being filmed in some way. So many citizens have been able to verify this “act” on repeated occasions.
To be fair, we have also seen law enforcement officers who do not hide their plates in these circumstances, and officers willing to fully identify themselves; but the truth is that these are in the minority.
Another reaction has been to prevent the taking of pictures. Thus, in a recent building collapse caused by rain on Monte Street in central Havana, just a few days ago, a person taking pictures of the place was about to be arrested by the police because (this is what that they argued) “you cannot take pictures of building collapses or fires.”
Nothing was said, however, about those responsible for the fall of the building.
In even more extreme cases, the approach has been to forcibly seize the person’s camera or phone (or both) — items that in many cases those deprived have never seen again … without explanations of criminal proceedings of any kind.
The latest thing I’ve heard on this subject was told to me by a friend from Pinar del Río last week. A police dog was checking for drugs in some luggage. My friend liked the dog and took a picture … and ended up in a jail cell where he had to go on a hunger strike before they finally released him some days later, because “police dogs cannot be portrayed while they work.”
It is possible that readers from other countries will see in these words an exaggeration or an intention to discredit. Neither is true, it is just that – for our tragedy – Cuba is today, as much as it hurts us, a country of ABSURDITIES.
July 6 2012