‘I Can Destroy Your Life With One Stroke of the Pen,’ the Cuban State Security Official Told Me

The author with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. (Clive Rudd Fernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Clive Rudd Fernández, Miami, 10 December 2020 — I just got back to Florida after a five-day trip to Cuba. It had been about five years since I went, but a series of factors came together that led me to opt for Havana, and not the Bahamas or Cancun.

The most important of all was my mother. At 82, you never know when the last time you see her will be. The second factor was a chain of events that began with the rebellion of the San Isidro Movement for the unjust imprisonment of Denis Solís, to which we added the decision of the writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez and the artist Tania Bruguera to leave the comfort of their homes, with their security and full freedoms outside of Cuba, to risk their existence in the steady increase of the repression. I had no way out but to go there.

I arrived in Cuba with my wife on Tuesday, December 2, very early and two hours later we were at my mother’s, who lives in El Vedado. The images of the street corners and places that marked my life sped past me all the way. The architecture and the streets remain the same as 25 years ago. As if they could not stand up to one more hole. As if the houses had given up painting like an old woman who hates rouge.

But there was something new. One of the national pastimes, standing in line, is experiencing a boom like never before. Not only that, there are also more, and worse, reasons to do it. It is as if the value of Cubans’ time has been devalued like an old and discarded currency.

There are crowds and long lines to get some laundry detergent or a piece of chicken. And this in the midst of a pandemic that the Government has used to strengthen its control over citizens. Over some more than others.

I spent a few days talking with my mother and arguing with my wife about the best time to visit the people who were juggling their days for us. We agreed that, knowing the reactions of the Government, we would leave a possible conversation (which we had not yet arranged) with Tania Bruguera, for the last days of our stay.

But in Cuba planning something is impossible, especially if the people you want to meet are under constant harassment. For example, Tania was arrested in the middle of the street by State Security and we didn’t hear from her again.

The opportunity came when a friend of the family invited us to a session with a troubadour we love very much, coincidentally a few blocks from San Isidro, so we decided to stop by the house where everything had started, at Damas 955.

There was not a single police patrol there. Inside the house there was light and several people talking, and we asked them about Luisma’s [Otero Alcántara] health.

One of the women in the room asked me, half-jokingly half-seriously, if Cuban President Diaz-Canel had sent me. I was still laughing when, from the center of the poorly lit street, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara appeared and, without ever having seen us in his life and without asking any kind of questions, extended his hand to us.

– Welcome to San Isidro.

I grabbed his hand and used it as a handle to give him a big hug and say closely:

– “You are not alone. Cuba is with you!”

Luis Manuel showed us the still fresh evidence of the acid that had been thrown through the roof and the shattered door that State Security had crushed a few days ago with the intention of creating terror and confusion. He also told us that the State had installed multiple surveillance cameras.

After a short visit, we said our goodbyes and went to listen to our friend who, with his guitar, awoke with the memories of a Cuba that does not fade but exists only in memory.

When I got home, my mother greeted me with, “I have bad news. The police were here.”

As she had not opened the door, she did not receive a summons, but the police officer made it clear that I should be at the Zapata y C station the next day for a “police interview.”

We initially decided not to go. “How are we going to surrender so easily and voluntarily to the police without an official summons?” said my wife, with good reason.

But after 10:00 AM we learned why there was no option but to go.

Captain Radames telephoned the house to ask how was it possible that we were not at the station yet, and he let it be understood that, although we would be traveling soon, my mother was staying in Cuba. Faced with this veiled threat, it became clear to us that we had to go.

Four people were waiting for us: Captain Radamés, one whom they called the politician and who never gave his name, and two women who said they were from the Health department.

My wife had never been in a police station, but her father was interrogated and harassed years ago by State Security, so she was very tense. I, for my part, was ready for anything.

They informed us that the PCR test for Covid-19 that we were given when entering the country was negative, but that when we left home we were committing the crime of propagation of epidemics that could lead to a penalty of deprivation of liberty for three months to one year. That was not what I expected. One year in jail for leaving home when my test was negative? But the conversation continued in another direction. The visit we made seemed to matter more than the pandemic.

After half an hour of discussions, including an epidemiology debate in which the nurse seemed more like a jailer than someone interested in her profession, the captain asked the “health workers” to leave the office and leave us alone with the politicals.

“We are aware that you went to visit Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara,” he snapped, as if he had been waiting for that moment to display his power.

I said to him: “We are going to shorten the time, because you know that I have no legal representation here, much less any rights. Tell us what you want to do.”

The policeman interrupted to tell us that, this time, we were going to leave with a fine. “But know that we are already on to you, and if you take one wrong step we will apply the full force of the law,” he added.

We left the station shit-scared, knowing that with the arbitrariness of a country where the law is applied at the whim of a few and in an expeditious manner, our five-day vacation could be transformed into the hell of a Cuban jail.

We spent the next two days without leaving the house, terrified, and with the paranoia of seeing police everywhere.

On Monday at 4:00 am the alarm went off and it was time to leave. The flight was at 8:00 am, but first we had to go through immigration.

I was reaching that moment when the body and mind are so fatigued with fear that you begin to feel immune to it. You start to laugh nervously at everything and it is enough for someone to look at you for more than 30 seconds for you to spontaneously curse him out.

“This is over. Not one more fear. Fear is a natural human reaction, but courage is a decision. Today, the two of us are going to make that decision and we will not let these people have power over us,” my wife said to me.

She got through immigration in less than three minutes. They told me that my passport needed further review, to step aside and let other passengers go through.

An hour passed and I began to see how uniformed officials from the Ministry of the Interior went from one place to another with my passport. First a major, then one without a uniform, and finally a colonel.

Flight time was approaching and there were no signs that my issue would be resolved with a happy ending, so I prepared myself for the worst. I thought: “I hope Liliet gets on the plane. My only protection is that she calls the media and denounces my arbitrary detention on the social networks.”

Finally, the colonel from State Security calls me to an interrogation room where the politician I met at the Zapata y C station was also there. At this point I was prepared for anything.

– What did you come to do in Cuba? the colonel asked me.

– I came to see my mother, I replied.

– We are going to stop this farce, we know that you came to meet Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the interrogator rebuked me.

– There is no farce. I came to see my mother, but I had the tremendous luck to meet Luis Manuel, whom I admire a lot for the fight he has embarked on.

As the interrogation progressed, during which they asked me about my links with the news site Martí Noticias – where I have not worked for more than two years – and about my relationships with Eliécer Ávila and with other members of the San Isidro group – whom I have not I had the honor to meet – I realized that fear no longer existed. I began to feel a great inner peace and enough serenity to disagree with whatever empty argument they pulled out of their arsenal.

For me it was something unexpected, how I went from a paralyzing panic to feeling myself controlling the interrogation and all the arguments of the issues we addressed.

Finally, he told me that I was not going to convince him, but to be very careful, that with one stroke of the pen he could destroy my life. The interrogation ended when I told him that I already knew that, that we, too, have pens and that they have more impact than they imagine.

After that they released me and I went to wait for the boarding of a totally paralyzed flight that they did not allow to leave until noon.

Once we were in the air, Liliet told me that she had raised the alarm on social networks about their holding me and that she had also been interrogated for half an hour.

Leaning back against the seat, I tried in vain to doze. I felt very tired, but unable to sleep. In the midst of all the images that ran through my head about the interrogation I had a feeling of joy, something strange, amongst so much filth.

I think that when I lost all fear and told the interrogator everything I thought to his face, without nuance or concealment, I felt free in Cuba for the first time.


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