Hunger artists: account of the eviction of a protest in Cuba | International

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Demonstration in support of the San Isidro Movement in Havana on Saturday.YAMIL LAGE / AFP

The door to the house creaked like a broken bone, emitting the sound of misfortune. The wood splintered, its vegetal fibers, and the two wings of the entrance, timidly held by a chain and a padlock, collapsed. Like an artisanal SWAT squad — less stocky, disorganized, trying to adapt to the choreography of the many identical American movies — more than a dozen women and men from State Security entered Damas 955, Old Havana, disguised as medical doctors, and they forcibly detained 14 people, most of whom had been protesting peacefully for eight days at the arbitrary detention of rapper Denis Solís, who was sentenced in summary trial to eight months in prison on the charge of contempt. Five of these people were on hunger strike and only I had been there for less time than the others, two nights of exhausting but extraordinary confinement.

In fact, my surprise entrance to the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, the art and activism project coordinated by Luis Manuel Otero from his private residence, was the excuse used by the forces of order to exercise violence. "We don't want to do it like that," they said by way of procedure before breaking down the door. "This is how you do it," we reply. As I came from abroad, they wanted to accuse me of having violated health measures against the spread of covid-19, despite the fact that at noon on November 24 I had gone directly from the airport to the place of the protest and had remained in isolation surely more than any other traveler on my flight and more than any general traveler who had entered Cuba since the international flights opened nine days earlier.

There are those who believe that, looking like a distracted tourist, I managed to sneak into Damas 955 because the police fence did not expect such a move. There are those who believe that the political police knew my intentions, my trip from New York via Miami, and allowed the entry to happen without obstacles to use it to their advantage. I don't know yet, and I don't think I'll ever know, how it happened. Sometimes the surveillance machine is so clumsy that it becomes effective, sometimes it is so effective that it becomes clumsy, but it is always in ultimate control of the facts. Anyway, in Ladies 955 they knew about my arrival, they deemed it necessary and every decision or step that came after was taken together, pursuing a common goal.

On the night of November 25, representatives of Public Health sent me the information that my test at the airport had been inhibited or altered – not positive – and that they had to repeat it before midnight at the polyclinic on 5 and 16, distribution Miramar. If I didn't, they would come looking for me. No authority was able to notify me directly, because by then the telecommunications company had already cut my cell phone line, just as it had cut off the others before. The ways in which we managed to stay connected to the Internet can only be understood as juggling exercises. On the other hand, before any medical evidence, the pro-government propaganda apparatus had begun to fabricate the political case, accusing me without proof of breaching health protocols.

I found myself at an apparent crossroads that turned out to be false. If I left home, they could diagnose me positive for covid-19. Under the excuse of propagation, they would dismantle the protest, so it would appear that I had circumvented the siege of San Isidro with the complicity of the regime, acting as their pawn.

A suspicion of this type forever ruins the moral integrity of any Cuban, and it is one of the favorite and most effective techniques of State Security: to settle in the collective conscience; make believe that they are in more places than they are, because that is precisely how they ensure their multiplied presence; that each one suspects the other at the first opportunity and that we launch incessant accusations of snitches without any evidence. Particularly efficient is the way in which this control logic achieves success through its bad reputation and builds its capital on the basis of its own disrepute. The power knows that it stains, and that it destroys someone's civil reserve if it manages to convince others that this someone belongs to them.

The other option that I had left, and that I preferred, was to stay within San Isidro, even if they would still come to look for me and take the others along. For a moment, I deeply questioned having gone there, I felt a hindrance, but that same day, a little earlier, Luis Manuel Otero had told me that the reason for his life was the people, and that he had decided to end his strike by thirst, much more terrible and destructive than hunger, because of the support that came from outside, and because I had flown from New York and the rest of his fellow protesters asked him with constant gestures and concern, although they respected his position . The change in the thirst strike of Otero, who was the only one who maintained a punishment of this type along with rapper Maykel Osorbo, was not only due to a terminal physical scream, but that plea of ​​the organism to the limit seemed to also come in form of reflection.

"Is there a difference between hunger and thirst strikes?" I asked him, crouching beside him. Otero rested on a thin mat. He was wearing a kind of cloth wrapped around his waist, nothing more. I remembered a painting: Saint Paul the Hermitby José de Ribera. But now a black hermit, later.

"The difference is very great," he said. You see how the body is consuming and consuming, you see it from the inside, the skin begins to be left over. I put my feet in the water …

-Whats that for?

Sometimes he sat in a chair, feet in a basin, elbows on thighs, crestfallen in a corner of the house.

"It gave me the wish, but there is a moment when I didn't want to be touched, no shower or anything." It was something to refresh, I don't know, I felt good about it. My body was leaving me, you feel the need for water, which means, because 70% of your body is water, and you see how you are literally drying up. Hence the issue of putting your feet in the water. The body was wet and there was a deception there in the head. But there is a point where, because you are not a plant that is going to catch water through the feet.

Otero's eyes, expressive and black, had regained their agility after drinking water and erased part of their ghostly condition, giving a second wind to the dissolution. The triangular cut of his cheekbones had been accentuated by the chisel of hunger, which lowered them minute by minute, like one who seeks to carve a portrait of bones.

"How were you feeling just before you quit your thirst strike?"

"You want to vomit, a lot of pain in your stomach." Because one thing begins to eat the other. And in the muscles, but especially in the stomach. The last night I slept very well. It's like the body told me: “Sleep, man, rest. We are no longer going to fight ourselves. Already". That night I dreamed and everything. I don't remember what, but I was in a building, and there was someone I knew. I could even have endured two more days, or one.

Sometimes, when he got cold, a cold that no one who was not on a hunger and thirst strike could have felt at the end of November in Havana, he wrapped himself in a white sheet. Perhaps the thirst strike can be defined as a winter fever.

We are quiet for a moment. Then Otero continued:

"I could have simulated a gulp of water, but this is real, not a performance. He could have given me a mouthful of water, filmed and that's it. And the other thing is that as you go down, all the energies that are around you also go down.

"That's where you decided."

—The organs began to say: "Look, I can't function as well as this one anymore." The feet rose and walked, but it was all mechanical. My heart told me: "I am autonomous right now, I have to fight for myself." They are the images that I have in my head. The organs begin to become independent and each one says: "Wait a minute, I have to save myself first than you." The kidney against the liver, this against that. But when you go back to real life, all of that is integrated, and one has already passed over the other.

I imagine Otero's organs weakly fighting each other, exhausted in his dry body, suffering the sun of his political determination.

-And what else? -I asked for.

—The other thing is the relationship with death, I'm not afraid of it. It is one more state. For me life is more complex than death. That relationship of giving meaning to life, putting gas on it again and keeping it going. I remember Yasser was sitting there, looking at me. Yasser is a super guy LightHe was calm, and he looked at me with wide eyes as if he were saying to me: "De pinga, you're leaving."

Yasser Castellanos, who was on a hunger strike 30 hours before the vomiting began, is an extremely peaceful, vegan and animal rights man. He meditated a long time in his place, spoke slowly, in whispers, and composed some hip hop bars. His attitude responded strictly to the ceramic Buddhist monk who rested on an altar next to the entrance door, next to an imposing Saint Barbara, a merciful Saint Lazarus, a Mexican Catrina and more icons unrecognizable by me. Such was Yasser's phlegm that he did not seem to be in the middle of a political revolt, but in a Tibetan retreat.

The protest had an almost Babelic composition, which, however, reached the understanding from the resistance. There was an amusing chaos in the behaviors and a harmony in the affections coming from the sense of justice. Despite the aura of death and the tension of the siege, Damas 955 brought together a flutter of voices and different tones, made up of the common political boredom. It seemed to me that he was returning to the scholarship of adolescence, again subject to the laws of a precarious but altruistic environment.

You had to bathe and unload the cup with buckets. The water was drawn from a cistern. Clothes were hung on the cables in the yard, near a side wall. Those who were not on strike had to eat away from the strikers, and the food was boiled or cooked with the minimum of flavor, to avoid temptation and suffering. The nooks and crannies under the stairs were full of clutter and clutter. Upstairs there was a hen pecking at whatever was in the rubble, an animal that had already turned into something else, like a chicken cyborg. We slept on sheets on the concrete floor. The tiles in the bathroom were cracked, cracks like wet grooves, and thick rusty pipes and bricks protruded from the busted wall.

The humble house — with rectangular columns in the center, wide and rough — looked like a forgotten warehouse on an eternal hunger strike, and that was where its strength lay. It expressed an era. Even Otero's cell phone had no cover, the cables and the battery were loose. It is difficult for a political order to discipline a boy who lives happily with such a cell phone.

"Look at this," anyone would say when something elemental was missing. "And they still accuse us that imperialism pays us." That was one of the most recurring jokes. The other, although it seems contradictory, played with the fact that we were all going to stay and live there once the regime complied with the demands. But Otero would then raise his head and say that when it was all over, he didn't want to see anyone else. Firm political ventures are not carried out with gravity or poses of tragedy.

Esteban Rodríguez, the young asthmatic overflowing with charisma, called off his hunger strike just before the raid. He leaned on the kitchen plateau, visibly uncomfortable, weary, and said, "I have to eat." "Ok", they replied. "You have to start with a soup, or we will prepare a taro puree for you." Somewhat overweight, Esteban became frustrated. "How?" He breathed. "No, no, no soup. Give me a steak, give me something, I know myself. No soup, what soup! ”.

Abu Duyanah Tamayo, the portly and affable Muslim who was always in charge of guarding the door after a neighbor attacked Otero days before and threw glass bottles inside, stretched his prayer mat in a corner or lay in front of the only one. fan of the place. Anamely Ramos, a former professor at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), expelled from the university for writing articles considered disrespectful and maintaining critical positions in front of high-ranking officials, mixed a certain Catholic drive with her knowledge of African art and her devotion to figures from the Yoruba pantheon . In turn, when I asked Omara Ruiz if she was a Catholic, she told me bluntly: "Apostolic, Roman."

Osmani Pardo, a Christian who maintains a private business as a “vendor-producer of party supplies and others,” resembled Yasser Castellanos in some points. He spoke very little, always diligent, and his face reflected a deep kindness. His practical knowledge, his amazing manual skills, allowed him to fix any technical malfunction in the house, and there was more than one. I saw him build an electric resistance with two cans and three wooden dowels in a matter of minutes. Their hands thought, and not only because they solved things, but because they acted with the same dexterity when they did not have to solve anything. In his spare time, silent, Osmani had made a many-branched tree out of a tangle of copper and called it "the tree of freedom."

Maykel Osorbo, the rapper, brought the language of the ghetto, and left pearls like this: "What if living were the doubt for the insecure?". Katherine Bisquet, poet, composed some verses about the situation: “Inside hunger./ Inside a ca (u) sa./ Inside the same scar / that closes from the opening of the navel to the rise of the chest./ No there is already the fear of the night. / Prepare me a mushroom pizza for tomorrow. / I want to feel the taste of freedom ”.

The group was completed by Adrián López, a sleepy, sleepwalking 18-year-old who had refused to enter the Mandatory Military Service; Jorge Luis, 21, an expert in the science of connecting to the Internet from Cuba; Iliana Hernández, Guantanamo marathoner, independent journalist, already pale from so many days of strike; and Angell, a small and discreet woman, almost flustered, a mother of three who had lost her home. If this diversity does not seem sufficient, it should be noted that the day of my arrival the scientist Oscar Casanella, expelled from the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR) for his political ideas, was leaving the strike and the campus.

Finally, we all agreed that I should not leave, and that sort of exalted fraternity that invades cornered groups in the last moments of danger was noticed. We could also get some reward from what my arrival had caused: to achieve greater media impact, forcing the repressive forces to manifest themselves as they are and to be exposed once more.

Omara Ruiz, a forward, sagacious woman, told me on the afternoon of November 26 that somehow we were winning, hours before the outcome. It felt like someone was putting an arm around my shoulders. It is difficult, in light of events, to translate why we thought we were winning, but he was right. They were words spoken within a closed space. The walls completely prevented the circulation of reality.

Omara had been a professor at the Higher Institute of Design of Havana (ISDI), a center from which she was expelled for her work as a human rights activist, and somehow she was the one who organized life in the confinement and serenely marked a good part of it. the guidelines to follow.

Around eight o'clock at night, three officers from the State Security came looking for me, posing as doctors. Each profession has its own gestures and vocabulary. My parents are doctors, and a flashy comparison put me out of doubt about the identity of the subjects, if I ever had one. A doctor saves lives, a gendarme reduces them. We demanded that they leave the house, and we saw that there was already a considerable operation outside: several patrols, two cage cars, a retinue brought in to shout slogans. There they cut off access to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube in much of Cuba and did not restore it until almost an hour later.

They were nervous men and women. “And when are they going to catch me?” Esteban wondered after several policemen passed him and did not touch him. Two guys held me down. They stumbled down the stairs and then each pulled me to their side. I was about to hit one of the columns. I think their inexperience made them more dangerous. They didn't hit, but they wanted to humiliate you. They led you by the neck or squeezed your arms, carried you not in a straight line, but with shaking.

There I lost contact with the five women in the group. Supposedly, it was a raid to prevent the spread of the virus, but the men were taken to the Cuba and Chacón station, on Avenida del Puerto, and they kept us crammed for more than two hours in the cage car, arms and legs interspersed in a cubist darkness. The door was only opened from time to time to relieve Esteban's asthma.

That procedure was a seal of friendship. I didn't feel like a prisoner and started asking everyone questions. Only Otero was my friend before this episode. Together with Maykel Osorbo, he saw himself as a maroon, and they were, which endows San Isidro with a historical consciousness that power wants to deny. They are black, poor, displaced, living in precarious houses surrounded by luxurious hotels for tourists with white calves. They are everything that the Revolution promised to claim and ended up persecuting, hunting them to hide them. What they put on the table, and hence the fury with which they seek to erase them, is not only the fight for the liberation of a rapper, but they open the range of possibilities for the form of a black national republic, of a new culture long postponed, which articulates the movement with today's global narratives. Only then, through that belligerent loophole, would Cuba be entering modernity.

As soon as they took me out of the cage — I was the second to leave — freedom was gone, and I was supposed to be returned to it. At the Miramar polyclinic they did the PCR that justified the operation, an uncomfortable toothpick poking at my throat. No other participant in the protest would take the test.

To get there, a patrol with three officers had previously led me along the Malecón, heading west. I looked from the window at the places I traveled countless times, but never alone. The Ameijeiras hospital, the corner of the Hotel Nacional, the Casa de las Américas, and the university residence of F y 3ra, where I lived for five years. I watched the building until I lost sight of it, trying to locate my flat, in case I saw myself leaning there and could still find outside the trace of what had been. I was barefoot, with my hands cuffed behind my back and the fatigue of the broken body stuck in the swamp of the city.

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