My Dirty Piece of the Sea / Yoani Sánchez

Uprising called the
Uprising called the “maleconazo” /5 August 1994 / Photo by Karel Poort

In 1994 I spent many hours sitting on the wall of the Malecon. I preferred the area between the Gervasio and Escobar streets, which I called “my dirty piece of sea.” That was a border between the abyss and the abyss. On one side the rocks and the waves, on the other a sequence of ruined houses and starving figures looking out over their balconies. Still, this place allows me to escape the day-to-day strangulation of the Special Period. If my stomach burned from emptiness, there was still the hope of finding someone hawking — in a whisper — pizzas or paper cones of peanuts. When the power cuts made it impossible to be in my hot room, I also went looking for the sea breeze as a relief. On that concrete I loved, cried, stared at the horizon wanting to run away, and even passed a few nights.

But on the morning of August 5 of that year, the Malecón became a battlefield. Around the ferry dock to Regla people were gathering, encouraged by the hijackings of several boats throughout the summer. An extended sensation of the end, of chaos, of “zero hour” was palpable in the atmosphere. Those waiting to take “the next boat to Florida” were the poorest, those with the least to lose, those ready for anything. Their disappointment was great when they learned there would be no chance of getting on any of these boats. Undoubtedly, that was the spark of the popular revolt that broke out immediately afterwards; but the fuel of the protest was hunger, scarcities and desperation.

A contingent of construction workers, disguised as “enraged people,” lashed out against the unarmed crowd with stick and iron bars. The order from on high was clear: crush the rebellion, but don’t leave behind any imaged of anti-riot troops repressing the people. The epithets launched against the outraged of that day were “lumpen, vermin, criminals and counterrevolutionaries.” The majority of them would emigrate in the coming weeks, on homemade rafts, or simple truck cabs mounted on inner tubes. Others were sent to prison for facing the shock troops. Fidel Castro showed up in the middle of it all — only once the situation was under control — and the official media displayed his presence there as the confirmation of a great victory. But the truth is that after a few weeks the government had to permit farmers markets to relieve the misery. Without the pressure exercised that August 5, we would have ended up like a “Democratic Kampuchea” in the middle of the Caribbean, like the experiment of a stubborn tropical Pol Pot.

I no longer like sitting in front of my dirty piece of the sea. Some of the horror of that August 5 is still there, sandwiched between the cracks in the wall.

Photo by Karel Poort taken from
Photo by Karel Poort taken from

6 August 2012