Bethlehem Hill / Antunez

In the early morning hours Idania Yanes called me. “Antúnez, there is going to be an eviction here in Santa Clara, in the Bethlehem Hill subdivision. Seven or eight families were given 48 hours to vacate their homes, or else the bulldozers will come and remove them. They just called us asking for support. I cannot allow this. We must go back them up.”

“And when is the deadline?” I immediately asked her.

“Tomorrow at noon. I’ve prepared the troops here to help these families.”

Very early the next day we arrived there – more than a dozen members of the Central Opposition Coalition. Bethlehem Hill is far removed from the city center, close to the ice plant and nearly adjacent to the National Highway, so an eviction there would be hard to hear in the city. Seven or eight houses, nearly all masonry, were to be demolished.

Upon seeing us, the families were visibly and touchingly hopeful. The number of children and pregnant women there broke our hearts. As soon as we arrived we explained to them what their legal rights were, and how they should defend them.

“We are here and we will be with you until the end. We are human-rights activists and our duty is to stand with the victims. Don’t let them provoke you. When they come to remove these houses we will get in front of the bulldozer and if there is repression we will remain peacefully in the front row, but we will not let you be homeless.”

Our words encouraged the neighbors, and the rumor that “the human-rights people have arrived,” had spread throughout the area, so even families that had not been threatened with eviction were there to see and hear us.

Thirty minutes later a Lada pulled up on the side of the highway; two more stopped on the other side further back, watching and taking photographs. Out stepped Major Oirizat, Commander of the State Security Confrontation Brigade for the province, along with the Head of the Provincial Housing Department who, by way of greeting the families, said:

“What’s going on here?”

We dissidents preferred not to speak at that moment, or at least not until we were addressed. We were not there to do politics, but in solidarity to solve a problem.

“Although yesterday you came to tell us we had 48 hours to leave or you would demolish our houses, we do not . . .”

“That was a mistake – nobody is going to be thrown out of here, so be calm. What I can assure you is that by your being here you will not get title to the property because this is illegal!” said the official.

Upon hearing that we breathed easier – the same person who hours before had publicly announced to these families: “You have 48 hours to collect your stuff and leave or I will come back with the bulldozer,” now said the opposite.

Oirizat looked at us hatefully. “And now we are leaving and we hope you will withdraw and not complicate things,” he said as he was leaving.

August 5, 2010