Riot Squads? … If There Are No Riots in Cuba… / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Why is everyone so surprised to see photos of riot troops putting down a student protest in Jaguey Grande**?

I saw riot troops, led my Military Counterintelligence in Camagüey. Their objective was to avoid the public joining the demonstrations of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, which took to the streets in solidarity with Reina Tamayo while her son, Orlando Zapata, was dying in the provincial hospital in that city.

It was February 3, 2010. First came the paramilitaries, beating and arresting people, followed by the leaders of the province’s Communist Party with the plain-clothes police. They took the 29 activists away by force in civilian cars, patrol cars, and some car they found along the way. The clear intention was to remove them from the crowd that had formed and that hadn’t joined in the repression nor the repudiation. Then came the riot police to prevent any outbreak of rebellion in the crowd that was standing around watching women and men being beaten and arrested right and left. I saw it but I couldn’t take photographs because the friend I was with who had a camera had already left so his equipment wouldn’t fall into the hands of the repressors.

I’ve been told from sources outside this isolated-from-information island, that images are circulating on the Internet of a video where a strong operation controls a protest of dissatisfied Pakistanis at a school in Jagüey Grande, Matanzas.

In February, when they controlled the funeral of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, some acquaintances in the area of Banes told me that some military men wearing uniforms they’d never seen before appeared. The told me categorically — they are not the “black wasps” nor the “red berets” among others. I can’t affirm this because I remained under house arrest, but I have no reason to doubt the comments of the residents of the area, who are fully aware of the various military uniforms.

A month ago when the Baracoa dissidents led a resounding protest some I spoke to after their release, told me of the new clothing and equipment of those who controlled the place. But there, as in Camagüey and around Banes, there were no video cameras to record it and put it out on the sites where there is freedom of expression.

The ones I saw in Camagüey while giving the details by phone to the foreign press, wore a dark blue or possibly black suit (it was nearly dark and I was a distance away). They got out of two trucks covered with canvas, there were around thirty of them, with four or five technical canines and their German Shepherds (without muzzles). I was impressed by the helmets with transparent protectors from the forehead to down below the chin, hanging on their belts something like a knife or bayonet, and concave shields like the shell of a giant nut. I’d only ever seen these in demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, in South Africa which they’d shown us on Cuban television, and in the Los Angeles riots in 1991 and other areas from the tropical benevolence of Cuban socialism.

I have two testimonies of people huddled under these disguises to attack their countrymen. The first was in 1994, I was studying philology at the Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, and the most radical students were grouped into Mambises and Manicatos*. Their mission was supposedly to guard against thefts at night, but we soon learned that in addition they prepared reports about the outstanding students, the life styles of the rest, watched the young people who fell into the arms of foreign students (better living conditions, clothes, stereos, and secretly hoping to get away to Togo, Mali or Burkina Faso).

They were a kind of teenage Rapid Response Brigade. Many of them like others hid behind a supposed sports rivalry, learning and conduct that demonstrate the worth of the “New Man.” They were given sweaters with appropriate letters, we said hello to them, had them in our cubicles, and smiled at their stupidity, but we all knew who they were: real whistle blowers.

Another who told me about it was a computer engineer friend, what in Cuban is known within the canon or racial discrimination as “a Yankee”: six feet tall, blond, intelligent and well versed in martial arts.

According to him (already working in another branch of the economy), his knowledge of combat sports earned him an extra profit, because in the case of civil unrest, his mission was to beat up the crowd, whomever it might me. So he told me.

I’ve had described to me the images of the fuss against the Pakistanis and I can’t believe it. Assault troops against Cubans? Aren’t we the most cultured country in the world where human rights are not violated and everyone is happy under the reign of the Olive-Green?

*This refers to the soldiers of the Liberation Army in the Cuban wars of independence of the 19th century and to the first natives they had news of on the island, respectively.

**Translator’s note:
A video has recently begun circulating on the web of Cuban riot police — wearing Chinese-made helmets — containing a student protest at a Cuban medical school specifically for students from Pakistan in Jaguey Grande, Matanzas, which apparently occurred sometime before March of this year.

September 13, 2010