From the Tail of the Caiman blog, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 20 March 2015 — As usual, Grisel got up early, made coffee. Afterwards she looked out over the back of her apartment – on the ground floor of an ugly concrete block – where, like many of her neighbors, she had added a room thirty years ago. No family member lived in her room, rather it was the “foundation room” where many of the faithful came every day “to consult with her.”
An enormous image of Changó dominates the place. Grisel Arteaga is Santeria. After bowing before her orishas and sprinkling a little brandy on them, she began her housework.
Around noon there was a knock on her door. It was a man who presented himself as the head of the demolition brigade for Physical Planning, and he tells her he has come to tear down her added room. Grisel can’t believe it and quickly calls, on her cellphone – blessed technology, her son Idael Marquez. “Mi’jo, come fast, the wreckers are here to tear down the foundation room,” she says.
“The brigade is waiting,” claims the official, and “we also brought a police patrol unit, because that’s the procedure.” The woman can’t stand it and explodes, “Why when I built it didn’t they come and tear it down? Now because a boss gets it in his head that it isn’t sightly you want me to tear it down?” she asks, furious. And adds, “Right now my son and I are going to go into the foundation room and you’re going to have to take me out dead, you hear me?”
“Ask Changó not to hurt us, we’re not going to go on with this”
The brigade, made up of five men, starts to remove the light covering from the terrace. Meanwhile, Gisel and her son stay inside. They pray, join hands and close their eyes. One of the young men of the brigade looks on from the doorway and asks permission to enter. “I want to present my respects to the orishas, I don’t have anything against you, but I’m afraid that ‘they’ won’t think so and will skin me,” he says, fearfully. Grisel stares at him and says, “Look, my son, you are playing with fire and you are going to get burnt.”
Grisel’s son can’t remain silent. “There is a head that thinks this, and a hand that executes it. You are the hand, the head doesn’t show his face, he sends you guys to do the dirty work and make enemies. You have to choose and say no to the head.” The young man nods.
The brigade chief approaches the door and repeats that they should leave, but Grisel refuses to give in. Then he calls to the police, “You need to come and control this.” But nobody wants to mess with Changó. The officer pulls back “You’re wrong, we’re here to avoid any problems of violence and so far I don’t see any,” he says, before starting the car and taking off.
One of the workers stands there and yells, “What’s going on. If the Government wants to take off the roof, let it come and take it off. I don’t want any problems with the saints, coño,” and he prostrates himself before the statue of an Indian that Grisel has in a corner. Another approaches and whispers, “I have two little girls, please, ask Changó not to hurt us, we’re not going to go on with this.” They end up collecting all the tools and fleeing at full speed in the brigade’s old Russian truck.
Juan Carlos Fernandez. I was born and live in Pinar del Rio and from this blog I want to defend freedom of expression.