The Abuse of My Rights and The Repression Reaffirmed My Opinions / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

The independent journalist Miriam Leiva was detained on two occasions during the visit of Pope Francis (File Photo)
The independent journalist Miriam Leiva was detained on two occasions during the visit of Pope Francis (File Photo)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 24 September, 2015 – I received the pleasant surprise of a brief visit to my little apartment by Msgr. Veceslav Tumir, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana, around 11:30am on 19 September. It gave me great joy to receive the invitation to go to the Nunciature at 4:00 pm that day to greet the admired Pope Francis, who would be arriving there at approximately 5:30 pm. Up until that moment, I had planned to attend the welcome event at 31st Avenue (five blocks from my home) with the community of St. Agustín church, or the one at St. Rita church, and to attend the Mass at José Martí Plaza, as I did when Pope John Paul II (at which time I also went to the mass in Santa Clara), and Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba.

When at 3:10 pm I was walking along the sidewalk about 20 yards from my home en route to the Nunciature, a State Security official, accompanied by a young woman from the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), told me that I was detained, took my cellular phone and my little camera, and took me in a patrol car to the PNR precinct on Zanja Street.

Shortly thereafter, a Lieutenant Colonel (who called himself Vladimir) arrived and said, “You are detained because….”

“…it is absurd that I cannot attend the welcome for the Pope,” I added, serenely.

I said that I had been invited to welcome Pope Francis at the entrance to the Nunciature. Between the departures of the two officers, obviously to report, my treatment was professionally respectful.

Soon after the Holy Father arrived at the Nunciature, they took me to the entrance of my little apartment in the same PNR patrol car. The whole proceeding took four hours total. The State Security official remained on the sidewalk facing the building where I reside (I don’t know for how long because I don’t have a window that faces the street).

On 20 September, around 7:24 am, I received a telephone call from a lady telling me, in the name of the Secretary of the Nunciature, that I should be at the entrance to Havana Cathedral at 4:00 pm, to greet the Pope upon his arrival there. At approximately 3:30 pm, I boarded a taxi-almendrón (a typical automobile made in America between 1925 and 1959), at the corner of my residence.

As I was traveling along San Lázaro Street, passing by Ameijeras Hospital, suddenly two cars brusquely intercepted the almendrón. The driver and passengers started babbling with astonishment as they spied a license on the windshield with an “SE” in red. “What’s going on?” they asked, alarmed.

I murmured, “Take it easy, this is my problem.” I exited the car. The same official from the day before yelled, “You are detained!” A plain-clothed woman rushed forward, I told her to let go of my arms, I turned to pay the taxi, and then surrendered my cell phone and camera. They sat me in a vehicle between a man and the woman, with two other officials on the front seat. They took me to the PNR station at 62nd & 7th in Miramar, and held me there until the end of the meeting with the young men at San Carlos Seminary.

At the door of the station the female official warned me: “You cannot exit your house nor participate in any activity of the Pope’s.” When I calmly argued against this measure, she replied that I did not possess any credentials, and did not have a written invitation to attend. I asked if the entire population of Cuba had them. The behavior of these four officials was also respectful. This “operation against a dangerous female subject” lasted two hours until my return to my “mansion.”

They used a lieutenant colonel and a State Security official on 19 September, and four officials on 20 September, to detain and guard a calm lady, accompanied and protected by God on the way to Him, whose lethal weapons were a straw hat, a little purse, a cellular phone and a little, almost-useless, camera. I am strengthened by the pain of being denied the honor of greeting Pope Francis and receiving his blessing. The abuse of my rights and the repression to which I was subjected reaffirmed my opinions and my perseverance over the last 23 years to work towards a democratic Cuba. More than 150 Cuban women and men throughout the country have been harassed and detained during the visit by Pope Francis.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison