On September 25, the Cuban government turned into exile the imprisonment of artist Hamlet Lavastida, which until then had lasted more than 90 days. On June 21, when he landed in Havana from Berlin, where he had traveled for an artistic residency, Lavastida was arrested by the State Security, which locked him up in the Villa Marista cells, where he remained until September 20, most of the time incommunicado. That day he was transferred to a protocol house in an unknown location while waiting for the details of his exile to be finalized.
To say that Lavastida was released is, to say the least, euphemistic. His imprisonment was, in reality, commuted to another type of punishment. On September 25, when he crossed the threshold of the protocol house where he was held for the last four days he remained in Cuba, Lavastida did not emerge a free man: he could not decide where to go or with whom to communicate, and it is possible, judging by the testimony offered by his partner, the poet Katherine Bisquet, that he did not even carry identification papers.
Once again guarded by State Security agents, Lavastida was taken to the same airport where he had been imprisoned three months earlier. There he was put on an airplane bound for Poland: a flight that, as he was warned, would have no return. Bisquet was banished along with him.
Hamlet Lavastida and Katherine Bisquet are the last two names on a long list —which for the sake of historical memory would have to be reconstructed— of Cuban citizens who disagree with the status quo and who had been banished for expressing publicly their nonconformity, be it, as in the case of Lavastida and Bisquet, expulsion from the national territory or, as in the case of journalist Karla Pérez, the impossibility of returning to the island. It is a list that is, in itself, a guarantee of power, which is the status quo.
Last July 11, and in the days that followed, Cuban political history recorded unprecedented events. For the first time in at least six decades, a series of citizen protests took place throughout the national territory, later accompanied by political demonstrations by Cuban exiles in various cities in the United States, Latin America and Europe.
In many of the protests held in the United States, where most of the Cuban diaspora resides, the demonstrators demanded an invasion of Cuba. For them, it was —it is— the most expeditious way to a desired regime change in the country from which, for political reasons, they left and where many fear to return. “In-va-sion,” was chanted along Bergenline Avenue and in front of the West New York City Hall. It was also heard, even louder, in Washington, D.C., around the White House, on several avenues in the capital city and at the gates of the Cuban embassy.
No U.S. administration in contemporary history —let’s say, in the last 20 years— has shown any interest in invading Cuba. It is difficult to find, in the grand scheme of world politics, any historical, strategic or even ethical justification favorable to such an outcome. It is not the case, however, of a symbolic “invasion” by the exiles.
I speak of return and not of disembarkation. Of passports and birthrights as weapons, and not of grenades or bullets. Of commercial flights full of exiles and humanitarian flotillas, not armies. We must give back to Cuba the potential for change that comes with the public expression of nonconformity with the status quo, the threat of which, for six decades, the political power has managed to get rid of, finding in it a guarantee of permanence and consolidation. I speak of the Havana airport as Bastille.
To invade Cuba by destroying the list of exiles so that Hamlet Lavastida and many others like him can finally cross the threshold to freedom.