Chronicle of a Visit Postponed to Jagüey Grande

Eliécer Ávila
Eliécer Ávila

Last Friday afternoon, my wife Rachell and I were going to the city of Jagüey Grande in Mantanzas Province. Several friends were waiting for us there to spend a weekend together talking and discussing future projects. We were going to see Alexey, a motorcycle mechanic and computer genius, as well as Carlos Raúl, a young pastor whose temperament and values make him stand out. Nevertheless, our planned getaway ended far differently than we initially intended, and not because of our will.

We were faced with several organizational challenges before we left the house. We had adopted our second puppy the night before and she was in very bad shape. Moreover, Rachell had to work until five o’clock and run like a marathoner in order to meet all her obligations and get home just in time to leave. Nonetheless, luck was on our side and we quickly caught a bus leaving Havana.

Along the way we were also planning on visiting Playa Larga Beach for the first time to enjoy some relaxation. However, a highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short when they stopped the bus on which we were traveling as it entered Jagüey Grande.

A highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short

They ordered us off the bus and forced us into a Soviet World War II ambulance with a sign reading “Maintenance.” We were then transferred back to Havana as we sat on toolboxes. Before that, all our belongings were taken from us, as they uttered the only phrase they echoed throughout the whole journey: “There won’t be any  Somos más in Jagüey Grande.”

We experienced moments of both fear and love inside that steel box. It felt like it was falling apart every time it hit a pothole, while its back doors were barely kept shut with wire. The return trip took two hours, but there were moments when adrenaline helped us surmount the hunger, the discomfort, and the abuse we were enduring. Nothing bonds people like sharing a just cause and enduring the ensuing consequences.

We were then taken to the police headquarters of Havana’s Cerro district, and there began the agonizing process of confiscating of all our belongings. Underwear, toothbrushes, deodorant, lipstick, phone chargers, and of all things, two sanitary napkins were confiscated. In short, an endless list of “tools of delinquency.”

The police officer in charge of this painstaking search did not hide his discomfort at having to inventory all that stuff. He was from Guantánamo Province, a large, pleasant, polite man. His attitude towards us undoubtedly troubled the State Security Agents. The same occurred when I was detained in Santiago de Cuba, and the police officers who recognized me tried to greet me, but the head honcho in charge that day ordered them to stay away from the detainee.

After the seizure of our possessions was complete, they took Rachell to a one-person cell, and they put me in a group cell. It was packed with men who seemed like they had been there for several days, sharing the unbearable heat and darkness. It did not take more than five seconds for the obligatory question: “What are you in for?” “Because I think” I replied.

He reiterated, “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.”

The youngest man there approached me and said: “Oh wait! Wait! That’s why your face looked familiar! You’re from the UCI [University of Information Sciences]!” And he added: “Man, you really let him have it!”* He gave me a friendly embrace and started laughing. He later told me he was in a rock band, and that they ended up fighting the police on “G” Street in Havana because they would not allow them play their music there, while constantly harassing them for identification papers. It was a short conversation, because once the others joined in, the officer in charge of political crimes ordered that I be taken to a one-person cell.

A while later I was transferred to an office so that an individual who introduced himself as Captain Marcos could “have a talk” with me. This young man said the most absurd things one could ever hear. “Eliécer! In that absurd democracy you like, there are thousands of Houses of Representatives, Senates, and Congresses! So to make any decisions, they all have to agree! That’ll never happen here! Can’t you see what they’re doing to Obama?”

Captain Marcos reiterated: “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.” He also sarcastically asked: “Have you seen any demonstrations? Don’t you get it? (…) The people support this Party and the Constitution. So you and the four little crazies who follow you, and we know who they are, aren’t getting anywhere. You don’t represent anybody,” he stated authoritatively.

I managed to respond that if things were as he said, that no one listens to us or pays attention to us, then why don’t they leave me alone and let the people decide? Why do they keep the people of Jagüey Grande and the whole country from knowing who I am? Of course, he would not answer my questions.

Instead, Captain Marcos repeated that it is they who will always be in charge in Cuba, to which I replied: “That hasn’t happened anywhere in the world.” I further provoked him by assuring him that, “One day there will be a democracy here.” He responded with the threat that I would be thrown in jail. While I showed Captain Marcos that I wanted to be a young man of today, he spoke like an old man of yesteryear. While I was trying to help repair Cuba, he was amazed that I would think there was anything political to fix.

Exasperated with me, Captain Marcos ordered me back to the dungeon. Now it was Rachell’s turn. Surely the interrogator thought it would be easier to pressure a woman, but instead, at one o’clock in the morning, Rachell – who had not even had a cup of coffee all day – gave him a lesson on courage and convictions. I overheard when they returned her to her cell, accusing her of disrespect. I blew her a supportive kiss from behind iron bars as they led her past my cell.

An hour and a half later, all our belongings were returned, and we were released.

In closing, I would like to tell Raúl Castro that it was a great honor for me to have been sent to one of his dungeons because of my beliefs. If he recalls the past, he will know what I mean, and that I will not give up.

Luckily, history never stops.**

Translator’s Notes:

*On 19 January 2008, Eliecer who was then a student at Cuba’s University of Information Sciences and actively engaged in coordinating support for the Castro regime on the Internet, was chosen to engage in a dialog with Ricardo Alarcón Cuba’s former ambassador to the United Nations and then president of the National Assembly. A video of this event later went viral worldwide;  a version with English subtitles is here. Ultimately, Alarcon lost his post in the National Assembly.  Eliecer’s account of his subsequent transition from regime supporter to democracy activist is here.

**Eliecer is referring to Fidel Castro’s speech at his trial after leading the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Entitled La historia me absolverá (History Will Absolve Me), in his speech Castro said it would be an honor for him to endure Fulgencio Batista’s dungeons, that he would not give up, and that unstoppable course of history would inevitably prove he was right.

Translated by José Badué

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