14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 July 2022 — I pick up the pace. The shared taxi I just got out of was going “at a snail’s pace” and if I don’t take longer strides I’ll be late for my appointment. I cross the Parque de La Fraternidad, I cross the street at full speed with a path that is still closed and leads to the ruins of the Hotel Saratoga, and I enter fully into the gardens of the Havana Capitol building. “Hey, you can’t go through here!” a stern-faced guard yells at me, adding: “You have to go on the sidewalk, it’s forbidden to go through this area!”
They are the same gardens where I practiced as a child with my first skates, the esplanade dotted with vegetation where I sat with my friends to imagine a future that most of them ended up realizing in another part of the world, and the space where Reinaldo waited for me for five hours 30 years ago, in a show of perseverance that sealed that incipient relationship. In other words, this place where almost every Havanan has a memory is now exclusive to officials and guards.
Although I am in a hurry, I decide to question the man about that prohibition. “Isn’t this Parliament? Isn’t Parliament the People’s House? Why are its gardens off-limits to the people?” separated by several meters from the gleaming facade of a building that was humiliated for decades with neglect, carelessness and official insults. Now, already repaired and with a layer of gold leaf on the dome, the regime has gone from rejecting it to monopolizing it.
I’m already running late for my appointment, so I walk away from the Capitol, its dour guard and its exclusive gardens, while I think about the sensation I felt the first time I left Cuba. It was like an uneasiness that made me fear that in any public square or monument a policeman would come out to tell me that taking a picture with that sculpture, getting too close to that casing or touching that ancient piece of stone was a crime. After days without the uniformed man appearing to scold me, I relaxed and took off the heavy burden of waiting for the whistle, the shout or the fine for my behavior.
Yesterday, Friday morning, I longed for that lightness, when I couldn’t cross the manicured but censored gardens of my own city’s Capitol.
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