Notes from a Hunt at the Ramp

I rush my daughter’s lunch so much that the fried chicken is underdone (I make it with half the oil needed) and the fried banana slices are burnt.

Since early we have been seeing thousands of people in the streets, in more and more places. San Antonio de los Baños started, then Güines, Bauta, Camagüey, Santiago, Cárdenas, Palma Soriano. I am impressed to hear the most recurrent cry: “Freedom.”

They are not asking for food, medicine, they are shouting “Freedom.” That is how imprisoned we all feel. I think that perhaps something of what has been done has made an impression on the people. The rights for a dignified life now move Cubans to the streets.

I am so desperate to walk around my Havana that I forget to take my purse. I tell the cab driver. “I’m sorry, man, my head is somewhere else.” And he forgives me.

Through the networks I learn that there are people on the Malecón. My sister Sol, to protect me, doesn’t tell me anything. I walk along 23 street, trying to reach the Malecón, and gradually I begin to hear a shouting that I did not expect. I am surprised to find people I know in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (CIRT): my friends Lara, Yunior, Reinier, Alfredito, Sol. I hug Danielito, we admire each other even without having met before. I learn there that they are waiting for a mediator who has promised them a few minutes on TV.

On the entrance stairs there are only a few guards and ten or twelve workers who respond with shouts to our demands.

We: “Cuba suffers,” “We are also Cubans,” “We are the same as you,” “Free the Internet.”

They: “Worms,” “Down with the blockade” (we do not hesitate to join them, we are that transparent). They try not to let their tongues follow us when we shout.

Time goes by and they grow in number and become louder. There are more and more hefty looking people. We are all shouting now. Some offend, others make demands. It becomes a give and take. Trite expletives versus truths.

The people of the Communist Party, whose offices are on the street perpendicular to where we are, arrive at the place, and the State Security begins to give commands of phrases to shout.

How easy it is to shout at the top of your voice, when you know nothing will happen to you, that you will only be applauded by the government and they will give you medals and shameful diplomas!

Leonardo kneels down to pray on the stairs. A man shouts at him: “Stop saying shit.”

I try to warn my people to get out of there. They are surrounding us, becoming more and more aggressive. “Let’s walk,” I say, and everyone prefers to wait for that camera that the CIRT promised them to film fifteen minutes in reply to the countless months of defamation.

Yunior sits on the sidewalk on top of Wifredo Lam’s slab; Sol, on Amelia Peláez; Renier prefers Sosabravo. The avant-garde guides us, the one that changed the course of art in Cuba and sought to draw the nation taking popular culture as a model.

From the stairs, the shock troops are close to come down and sweep us away like litter. They shout louder and louder and even managed to get little Cuban flags from somewhere.

The mood is becoming sour, the shouts are already laughable, it is a prefabricated script that we know by heart, full of hatred and lack of understanding. The personalized homophobic insults begin. My sister jumps offended, Lara too. I fear the worst.

We see Darío, a well-known State Security agent, arrive. He looks at Sol and Lara. He crosses his arms, as if amazed that they are here or as if scolding them for misbehaving. I hear him say to bring the truck. Four of them grab one of our guys who was talking on the phone on the other side of the street. They move arresting us from the outside in. There are a lot of people on the opposite sidewalk, standing outside the Habana Libre hotel by the 23 street side. They film what is happening with their cell phones, but they barely take part.

My sister takes my hand and we run towards L street, but we look at our friends, being loaded like beasts on the truck. We’d rather try to document the outrage than leave. Danielito, standing in the truck, makes the L sign with his fingers. He opens his arms, shouts. Others are forced to get on.

My sister wants to go back because she has seen friends on the sidewalk across the street. I cross the street with her. We decide to keep walking. The truck leaves. They force Danielito to sit. A man who has never taken off his helmet grabs him by the backpack and throws him on the floor of the truck. He looks like Robocop: an anonymous guy showing off his strength. He doesn’t care about the cries of “bullies” from those who look on undaunted.

We go up L. We think it’s all over, far from anticipating what comes next. Before reaching 25 street I feel the deafening braking of a car that crosses in front of another. Two men get out and grab one of us. I can’t believe it, we are being hunted. My sister, Gretel and I cross the street. I feel like I am in a movie. My sister says to the man, “I live in this building.” The man says, “No, Solve, you don’t live here.” My sister and I insist that there is no reason to arrest us, that we have done nothing and, not quite understanding this madness, the man lets us go.

We try to enter the building, and an old man in his eighties gives us away, a man who has learned very well that here we are guilty until proven innocent. He prevents us from entering and with a lot of malice aforethought he intuits that, if they are after us, it is because we have done something “bad.” Gretel tries to explain to the old man who we are. A fruitless effort.

We try to leave through another exit, but two patrol cars and four policemen are waiting for us there. Nothing to be done, I think. They chased us like hares in the middle of the Ramp.

They are back to yank at us and manhandle us. My sister fights so they let me go. “Take me,” she says, “leave my sister go, her daughter is home alone. She has nothing to do with this.”

With tears in my eyes they let me go. They put my sister in the patrol car. Without internet, unable to denounce what is happening, I desperately search for some trace of connection. I don’t know what will happen to Sol and the rest. I don’t feel well, but I choose to leave. Sometimes I forget that Sol is my older sister. In many occasions I am more serious and responsible. On July 11, however, she protects me like the big sister she is.

I have passed by the ground floor of the peculiar building on the intersection of 23 and L thousands of times, and I have always read the phrase engraved on its doorway. Right now I do not remember well, I think it is by Fidel or Martí, and it says that those who do not have the strength to fight should not criticize those who do. I lived that line there, in time and place.

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