Rebellion in Platanal

Santa Isabel de las Lajas.
Santa Isabel de las Lajas.

Just a mention of the name Santa Isabel de las Lajas, a town in the province of Cienfuegos, recalls one of the greatest of all Cuban musicians, Benny Moré, the “Barbarian of Rhythm.” Dancing and fun, joy and youth.

But on the night of May 16 the El Platanal de Bartolo discoteque, in the little homeland of the greatest  sonero, was the scene of a minor quarrel of which no one now wants to remember the origin. “Drunkenness,” said a waiter. The point is that someone with sufficient authority decided to end the day on the stroke of midnight, an hour earlier than usual. Hundreds of young people gathered there protested against the measure with all the energy of their age and, in addition, with every right. 

From El Platanal they went toward Marti Park, one of the many in the major towns that serve as a point of rendezvous and conquests. When the police patrol passed through the area in their Chinese-made jeep Number 553, tempers were still running high, so always ready to repress anything that looks like a protest, the uniformed officers warned the boys they were making the rounds and on their return they didn’t want to see anyone there.

Those who had gone out without their IDs, those with something to lose or something to hide, went to their homes, but some 60 preferred to stay… and the patrol car returned. In retaliation for what they interpreted as unspeakable disobedience, they imposed a fine on every person, but there were three who did not accept the outrage and were threatened by one of the police officers with his regulation pistol.

Neither Yoexis Llorente, nor Oscar Luis Santana, nor Miguel Armenteros felt intimidated. They took off their shirts as a sign of protest and told the cops, “Shoot here, in my chest.” Brute force prevailed – on this case the force of arms – and the three were handcuffed and taken to the police station. It’s been 12 days, they still haven’t been formally charged in court, and they remain detained. It’s been said they will be charged with resistance and contempt.

The apparent abyss that separates popular discontent from the political opposition can be leaped in a minute and for unforeseen reasons

Jorge Luis Oliver, an activist in the Reflection Movement in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, said that Miguel Armenteros’s mother told the town’s Communist Party Secretary that she would turn in her Party membership card if her son, recently demobilized from military service, was legally affected by any measure, and that she and the mothers of the other two would take the matter wherever necessary. Including to the “Human Rights people.”

Among the topics discussed at the Tenth Congress of the Young Communist League, there was one identified as “ Cultural consumption and recreational options.” Except in some of the provincial capitals, the only thing left for young people in the small towns is walking in the park and drinking alcohol.

There will be no uprising in Lajas, nor any uncontrolled social explosion because a discotheque closed an hour earlier than planned; but the apparent abyss that separates popular discontent from the political opposition can be leaped in a minute and for unforeseen reasons. And no one wants to be the “the fundamental clay” of any experiment in social engineering. At any moment El Platanal de Bartolo, that mythical site of Cuban enjoyment, could be registered as a center of conspiracy.

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