The Country of Long Shadows / Yoani Sánchez

There are two men on the corner. One is wearing an earphone while the other peers into the door of a building. All the neighbors know perfectly well why they are there. A dissident lives on one of the floors of the building; two members of the political police watch who comes and goes and keep a car nearby to follow him wherever he goes. They don’t try to hide because they want this person, who signs his name to his critical opinions, to know they’re there; they want his friends to distance themselves so as not to end up caught in the network of control, in the spiderweb of vigilance.

It is not an isolated case. Here, every non-conformist has his own shadow — or a whole group of shadows — who follow him around. The so called “securities” also use sophisticated monitoring techniques that range from bugging phone lines and placing microphones in homes, to tracking the location of their targets through signals from their cell phones. The effects on the personal lives of those who suffer these operations are so devastating that we have come to refer to State Security by terrible names such as “The Apparatus,” “The Armageddon,” or “The Crusher.”

But not even these soldiers dressed in civilian clothes can escape popular scorn. Several jokes are making the rounds about the inordinate number of “securities” surrounding each individual opponent. Whispering and looking over their shoulders, many comment sarcastically, “There is so much manpower needed in agriculture, and look at these guys here, spending the whole day watching someone who thinks differently.” Because, indeed, what a contrast it would be if, instead of criminalizing opinion, they devoted themselves to productive labor; if instead of projecting their long shadows over the critics of the system, they let them fall over some lettuce or tomatoes, over the furrows — now empty — that they could help to plant.