The Graveyard Police / Yoani Sánchez

The village graveyards are picturesque and sad: whitewashed tombs with the sun beating down all day on their stones, and the dirt roads packed hard by the feet of the mourners. But there is a graveyard in the town of Banes that has hosted unusual cries in the last twelve months. Crosses around which intolerance has no shame, where it has not lowered its voice as one does before a headstone. For several days, moreover, the entrance has been guarded as if the living could control a space dedicated to the dead. Dozens of police officers wanting to keep Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s friends and acquaintances from coming to commemorate the first anniversary of his death.

Those who now patrol the tomb of this bricklayer know very well that they can never accuse him–as they have others–of being a member of the oligarchy seeking to recover his property. This mestizo born after the triumph of the Revolution was not the author of a political platform nor did he take up arms against the government. Yet he has become a disturbing symbol for those who, themselves, cling to the material possessions that come to them through power: swimming pools, yachts, whiskey, bulging bank accounts and mansions all over the country. A man raised under political indoctrination escaped through the door of death, leaving them on the other side of the threshold, weaker, failing more than ever.

Sometimes the end of person cements his name in history forever. This is the case with Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire outside a government building because the police confiscated the fruit he sold in a square. The consequences of his immolation were completely unpredictable, the “domino effect” he set off in the Arab world immense. The death of a Cuban on 23 February 2010 has created an uncomfortable anniversary for the government. Right now, when Raul Castro is about to celebrate his three years at the helm of the nation, many are asking what will happen in Banes, in the small cemetery where the dead are more strictly guarded than prison inmates.

Though they surround as much as they can, this week the political police can’t stop people–from within their homes–invoking the name of the deceased Zapata Tamayo much more often than the long string of titles of the General-cum-President.

22 February 2010