14ymedio, Madrid, 2 May 2022 — His name is Elías Rizo León and he is 16 years old. The boy who became the symbol of the July 11 protests in Cuba by climbing with a flag onto an overturned police car on the corner of Toyo, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre, has made his identity public this Sunday, a day after arriving with his parents and his 11-year-old sister in Madrid.
He has done it, together with his mother, Ana León, in an interview with Mónica Baró for CiberCuba. In the interview they tell how the family, after being harassed by State Security for Rizo’s participation in the demonstrations, managed to leave the island for Russia on August 25. There, León says, they were “incognito,” until they undertook the journey to Spain. The family does not explain how he managed to leave Cuba and the interviewer does not ask.
That July 11th Sunday, Elías left his house without notifying his parents just after seeing President Miguel Díaz-Canel on national television saying “the combat order is given.” He had hidden a Cuban flag under his white sweater that he had kept since the eighth grade, when he took it from his high school, César Escalante, in Santos Suárez.
“The first thing to know is that I am a patriotic Cuban and I am proud to have been born in Cuba, and that despite the history that Cuba has, that does not detract or dishonor me, the enemies are them, they are the ones who have to be expelled,” says the young man fluently, with aplomb, during the interview, while he says that he has always been interested in politics.
Seeing the images of the protests through social networks, he was moved: “I told myself it’s time, it’s now or never, we turn against them, and that’s how it was.”
His intention was to go to the Malecón, “because that was the focus,” along with several friends, but in the end he went alone. When he came across the clashes, provoked by the security forces, on Calzada de Diez de Octubre, he stayed there. “I was in the hottest spot, where (the police) were shooting, on Vía Blanca at the Santos Suárez intersection,” he says. To the aggression of the agents, the protesters, the vast majority of them young, responded with stones.
Elías shouted “down with communism, damn the communists, patria y vida, and freedom for Cuba,” cheering the crowd, and witnessing how they turned over the emblematic police car, which, he clarifies, was empty, because the police officers had previously fled in other vehicles.
The young man was injured in the right hand with the car’s window glass that he broke with a stone, and his blood stained the flag he was carrying. That was when he had the idea of climbing on the overturned car with it and unfurling it: “It’s my flag, with my blood, with the blood of us Cubans.” As he waved it, he shouted “patria y vida and “freedom.”
He stoned the car because, he asserts, “it is a symbol of repression” that “has not been used for anything good, nothing more than to repress, to get money from the Cuban people, to beat people up and to let the police go wherever they want.”
Elías managed to slip away, despite being a target, with the flag in his hand, but he did not find any open door to hide in since they were all closed with bars.
Ana León knew where her son had been because she saw his image spread on social networks (“That’s Elías, I’m dying”), and it was immediately clear that she should not present him to the authorities.
“He’s my son, I gave birth to him and I’m not going to hand him over,” she told the lawyers who advised her to do otherwise. While Elías was hiding in a place that he does not want to reveal – his mother told State Security that he was in Santiago de Cuba, where the family comes from, but did not want to give the exact address – she was questioned several times by the political police.
“I never trusted them,” says Ana León, emphatically. “That is their working mechanism: they make you trust that nothing is happening, that everything will be fine, that they are simple routine questions, that you do not have to worry, that this is just a moment, a few hours, nothing more, of some questions. That’s a story. I knew perfectly well that was not what was going to happen, that from the first moment I arrived there at the police station with Elías, that was complete, and that is being seen.”
For other young defendants who were on the same corner of Toyo on 11J, the sentences have been the highest: Kendry Miranda Cárdenas, 19 years in prison; Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, 18 years; Lázaro Urgelles Fajardo, 14 years; Brandon David Becerra Curbelo, 13 years. “Two of them, sentenced to longer than they had lived up to that moment,” as activist Salomé García Bacallao notes, who also participated in Baró’s interview and who says that she knew about the Rizo León case from the beginning.
Regarding the reasons for choosing Spain as the destination of his exile, the young man says that it is because “our community is here, apart from in the United States… Despite the fact that I am further from my homeland, I feel safe here, I feel well.”
The family states that their intention is to request political asylum, for which they will begin the process this week.
Madrid, in effect, has become in recent months a “new Miami” for Cubans who have been forced into exile, among them the playwright Yunior García Aguilera and Mónica Baró and Salomé García Bacallao themselves.
“I want to continue my studies, that’s the main thing, and lead a normal life,” Elías also says, but, he admits, “I’m really very much into politics.” He will never regret it: “I did what I did because it was born to me, and I did everything for my cause and for the cause of all of us who yearn for freedom.”
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