The 103rd Annual Assembly of the Baptist Association of Western Cuba, to which I belong, concluded Saturday the 24th at 6:00pm. That was why my wife Yoaxis and I found ourselves in Havana from the Monday before, the 19th of March, separated from our two girls and from the churches in which we work in the center of the island. Nevertheless the news that arrived from there was not very promising for our return. Because of the visit of Benedict XVI something inconceivable was launched throughout Cuba: a true human hunt that trapped as common criminals and fearsome terrorists peaceful people who simply worried about the deplorable human rights situation in their nation. Detained friends, whole families fenced in, telephones cut off, people disappeared; this was the news we got, and it was really happening behind the scenes in contrast with the striking order on the plazas where the Pope said mass. In such a situation and assuming that some of these repressive variants or several at once could befall us, we decided to stay in the capital against all risk.
We planned as varied as possible an itinerary that on one hand would keep us moving constantly without any fixed site and that on the other hand offered us the possibility of carrying out advantageous activities in the midst of true secrecy. One of the most outstanding moments was the religious service we participated in on the Havana Malecon with the street church Victory Reach that as part of the international ministry Victory Outreach rescues treasures in the midst of such darkness.
In our very own pilgrimage, giving time for the Pope to leave, and trying to survive without being captured, at nightfall on Tuesday the 27th, we went to the home of a fellow pastor who took great pains in preparing a tasty supper that we shared in lively fashion with his family in his house full of neighborhood children as they prepared for what they call a night of sleepover, completely outside the presence of a Pope in Cuba.
As part of our rigorous schedule we did not permit ourselves to stay more than three hours in the same place and from the house of our brothers in faith we planned to move to an unfixed point on the Havana Malecon from which we could try to contemplate the presence of the other Cuba that also desired to be present amidst so much euphoria, that of the diaspora, through a self ordained Lights of Liberty, that like the other realized in December on the eve of the International Day of Human Rights, would greet Cubans sequestered on this prison island through fireworks.
The supper was almost finished when they knocked on the door of the apartment in which we found ourselves. It was the State Security, through two of its agents, who had found us and explicitly prohibited my wife and me from participating the next day in the mass that Benedict XVI would offer on the Plaza of the Revolution.
We explained to them that our presence in Havana after concluding the 103rd Annual Assembly of the Baptist Convention was not principally due to our desire to participate in said mass, but to avoid this repression that now finally made itself present here. Evidently the order that the agents brought was to detain us both, as they were doing with hundreds of others.
The brother that welcomed us and his family all gathered at the door and prevented the detention by expressing to the agents that they were in the best position to offer us their home for the night and to watch the mass together the next day on television. The agents, a little perturbed by the atmosphere of peace and harmony that was clearly observed, and which in a certain manner they had interrupted, told us that as far as they were concerned, there was no problem, but they had to consult higher authorities.
Asking me to accompany them alone to the stairs of the building, which I did without resisting, prepared for the ordained arrest, the only one of the two agents who the whole time made use of words left me alone a moment in the custody of the other and made a call, I suppose to the command center of the operation, and after receiving confirmation expressed to me that they accepted my presence in that house from which I could not move while they maintained surveillance.
So it was that we spent a fun night of sleepover in the home of our beloved brothers in faith while the agents kept watch. I cannot count how many there were in total, but do affirm that there were many more than the two who showed their faces. Something that powerfully called our attention is that the kind of transport they used possessed private license plates (rather than the plates identifying their vehicles as government cars) and included at a minimum two modern, white cars and another green one, plus a Suzuki motorcycle which could not be missed.
Our share of repression for the visit of Benedict XVI, in spite of everything, was not among the highest. Just before returning from Havana an abject group of all the repressed joined us in the house of a young independent film maker, Ismael de Diego, grandson of the great man of Cuban letters, Eliseo Diego, who also was victim, and there we found out about the infinity of all kinds of abuses, even taking into account that we who met that afternoon of Thursday the 29th constituted the most fortunate as was demonstrated by the fact that we had been able to get there even with our telephones not working.
The great majority of those excluded and repudiated found themselves distant and handcuffed in provinces like ours, where commonly repression is greater and unpunished. As a result of our meeting we agreed on a document of denunciation that we signed and delivered to the Apostolic Nuncio by means of the Catholic priest Jose Conrado, present among us, also with his cell phone cut off, who dedicated words to us that expressed his profound regret for what had happened to all of us as part of the papal visit.
If anything, the Cuban visit by Benedict XVI showed that the brutal repression within Cuba, and very alarmingly it seems for many in the world also, is seen now as a normal and tolerable phenomenon, very typical of a System considered unworkable even by its own actors, but which nevertheless is granted recognition and consent.
This time the exaggerated operation, coinciding with the fifth-third anniversary of the repressive organs of the State Security, has been baptized as the Vow of Silence, and undoubtedly constitutes the biggest exercise of this type that has taken place since the Black Spring of 2003, and many senses it is only as the preamble of future repressions through which there could very well be, in contrast with this, victims who are never found again.
Let us pray and work to prevent in Cuba a possible bloodbath so typical of decadent regimes like this one. A peaceful transition to an authentic democracy, as perfectible as it may be, constitutes an issue of survival for many in the middle of a growing, dangerous impunity.
Translated by mlk
April 5 2012