Rebellion on the Walls / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Down With Fidel (Photo by author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, 20 October 2014 — Contrary to the image of calm and stability that the Cuban government likes to project abroad, numerous posters are appearing with messages of protest and denunciations every morning around Havana streets and in the rest of the country, in spite of severe laws that prohibit expressing disagreements against official politics.

“Down with Fidel”, “Down with Raúl”, “Down with the dictatorship” or “Cuba is a corrupt country”, along with phrases of solidarity with Venezuela — where radicalized populist measures are taking place that have put democracy at risk — are some of the messages that proliferating in Cuba, despite the government sparing no expense to punish these acts of rebellion.

Sometimes written with regular pencils, and other times, simply scraping the wall with a piece of metal and with the haste of one who knows that, in Cuba, manifestly dissenting is a crime pursued with excessive fury, most of the graffiti only get to express in a direct manner the opposition to a system of government which very few people are betting on by now.

It is public knowledge that in Cuba just the appearance of a simple poster in the workplace, school or public place id enough to have all hell break loose, in the form of police investigations, harassment and arrests that not even a blood crime or a violent robbery can mobilize, since some forms of open opposition, even more so when they involve acts of association or are an enticement to rebellion, can be considered very serious crimes against “state security”, which is proof to the phrase “whoever sets the law, sets the trap”.

Nevertheless, men and women who cannot bear to continue to keep silent, assuming the risks, go out clandestinely at night to scribble their complaints, even knowing that in a few hours someone will make their messages disappear in the clumsiest manner.

Sometimes the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is responsible for covering the messages using unsightly stockades covered in partisan slogans; Other times, a brigade of workers or students will cross off the graffiti with brushstrokes, fulfilling an urgent task of the syndicate or of the Union of Young Communists. This was described by a young man who has chosen to remain anonymous so as not to harm him at his place of employment. He used to be Secretary of the Youth of his class during his years as a university student:

“Since the university faculty is in an area without lighting at night, signs that read there ” Down with Fidel “and other things frequently appeared. My hair would stand up on ends because I knew that the problems would follow. The police would go crazy asking questions among students and teachers, They would treat everyone as if we were guilty. They treated us as if we were guilty, they looked at us with suspicion. Since I was in the Union of Young Communists, it became my job to put together a small brigade to paint over the signs to cover them up. The worst thing is that the painting appeared immediately, but when we would ask for paint for the classroom windows, they would tell us there was no money, but for covering the signs there was.

A worker at an automobile workshop in [the neighborhood of] El Cerro (where one can still see, even with the paint strokes, one of the signs by the Patriotic Union of Cuba UNPACU), comments:

“If you asked me, I would leave them, but if we don’t cover them up, there would be a big problem. The Party members gang up on us and the cops appear immediately as if someone had been killed. They fired the custodian because of that sign. They had to take it out on someone because it’s really impossible to know who scribbled it. Since the sign is on the walls of the workshop, then it’s our problem. They are about to paint the whole wall because what was written can still be seen.

Judging by the storm of official ideological propaganda that is invading the city, the Cuban people appear to be a homogeneous, monolithic mass, and, above all, happy with their status as a subdued herd. If we focus our eyes on those sloppy cover-ups and the paint stains on some other walls, then we will begin to understand that there is a silence that begins to break down.

Radio, television, web pages, the very few newspapers and magazines circulating all under the Communist Party baton, and even the boxes of matches and the covers of the school notebooks are, besides vehicles of manipulation of the popular masses, an expression of the paranoia of the main leaders in the most unsuspected places are a lesson in dignity and its persistence.

Translated by Norma Whiting