They Tried to Strip Me. I Resisted and Paid the Price.* / Yoani Sanchez

Photo from El Pais. Yoani Sánchez in Cuba in an archive image. / JOSÉ GOITIA

They wanted to keep me from attending the trial of Angel Carromero, the Spaniard who was driving when a car crash killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero. Around five in the afternoon a big operation on the outskirts of Bayamo stopped the car my husband, a friend, and I were driving in. “You want to disrupt the court,” a man dressed completely in olive-green told us, as he immediately proceeded to arrest us.

The operation had the scale of an arrest against a gang of drug traffickers, or the capture of a prolific serial murderer. But instead of such threatening people, there were just three individuals who wanted to participant as observers in a judicial process, looking on from within the courtroom. We had believed the newspaper Granma when it published that the trial was oral and public. But, you already know, Granma lies.

However, in arresting me, they were actually giving me the chance to experience, as a journalist, the other side of the story. To walk in the shoes of Angel Carromero, to experience how pressure is applied to a detainee. To know firsthand the intricacies of the Department of Investigations of the Ministry of the Interior.

The first were three uniformed women who surrounded me and took my cell phone. Up to that point the situation was confused, aggressive, but still had not crossed the line into violence. Then these same hefty ladies took me into a room to strip me.

But there is a portion of ourselves no one can rip from us. I don’t know, perhaps the last fig leaf to which we cling when we live under a system that knows everything about our lives. In a bad and contradictory verse it might read, “you can have my soul… my body, no.” So I resisted and paid the consequences.

After that moment of maximum tension came the turn of the “good cop.” Someone who comes to me saying they have the same last name as me — as if that’s good for anything — and they would like “to talk.” But the trap is so well known, has been so often repeated, that I don’t fall into it.

I immediately imagine Carromero subjected to the same tension of threat and “good humor”… it’s difficult to endure this for long. In my case, I remember having taken a breath after a long diatribe against the illegality of my arrest where I repeated one sentence for more than three hours: “I demand you let me make a phone call, it’s my right.” I needed the certainty the reiteration gave me. The chorus made me feel strong in front of people who had studied the diverse methods of softening human will at the Academy. An obsession was all I needed to confront them. And I became obsessed.

For a while it seemed my insistent nagging had been in vain, but after one in the morning I’m allowed to make the call. A few phrases to my father, through a line obviously tapped, and everything was said. I could then enter the next stage of my resistance. I called it “hibernation,” because when you name something you systematize it, believe it.

I refused to eat, to drink anything; I refused the medical exam of several doctors brought in to check on me. I refused to collaborate with my captors and I told them. I couldn’t get out of my mind the helplessness of Carromero over more than two months of dealing with these wolves alternating the role of sheep.

Much of the time all of my activity was filmed by a camera operated by a sweaty paparazzi. I don’t know if one day if they’ll put some of these shots on State television, but I organized my ideas and my voice so that they would not be able to broadcast anything that infringes on my convictions. Either they will keep the original audio with my demands, or have to make a hash of it with the voiceover of an announcer. I tried to make it as difficult as possible for them to edit the material later.

I only made one request in 30 hours of detention: I need to use the bathroom. I was prepared to take the battle to the end, but my bladder, no. Afterwards they took me to a dungeon-suite. I had spent hours in another with a rare combination of curtains and bars, terribly hot. So to come to a larger room, with a television and several chairs, opening onto a room with a tantalizing bed, was a low blow. Just looking at the pattern of the curtains, I had the presentment that it was the same place where they’d made the first recording that circulated Angel Carromero’s statement on the Internet.

This was not a room, it was a stage set. I knew it immediately. So I refused to lie down on the freshly made bed and put my head on the tempting pillow. I went to a chair in the corner and curled up. Two women in military uniforms watching me at all times. I was living another deja vu, the memory of the scene that transpired in the early days of Carromero’s detention.

I knew it and it was hard. A hardness not in the beating or in torture, but in the conviction that I could not trust anything that happened within these walls. The water might not be water, the bed looked more like a trap, and the solicitous doctor was more snitch than physician. The only thing I had left was to submerge myself into the depth of “me,” close the gates to the outside, and that’s what I did. The “hibernation” phase let to a self-induced lethargy. I didn’t utter another word.

By the time they told me I was “being transferred to Havana,” I could barely raise my eyelids and my tongue was practically hanging out of my mouth from the effects of prolonged thirst. However, I felt that I had won.

In a final gesture, one of my captors offered his hand to help me into the minibus where my husband was. “I do not accept the courtesy of repressors,” I fulminated. And once again I thought of the young Spaniard who saw his life turned upside down that July 22, who had to struggle among all these deceptions.

On arriving home I learned from the other detainees that Oswaldo Payá’s own family was not allowed to enter the courtroom. Also that the prosecutor asked for a seven-year sentence against Angel Carromero, and that the trial had been “concluded, awaiting sentencing” on Friday. Mine was just a stumble, the great drama continued to be the death of one man and the imprisonment of another.

*Translator’s note: Yoani lost a tooth.

From El Pais

6 October 2012