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In normal countries, or as we commonly say among ourselves, “in countries”, people come and go where and when they want, with explanations limited to references to fares and the granting of visas by the nations to be visited. We Cubans, on the other hand, need to go through the humiliation of having to ask for government permission to cross outside the defined boundaries of the island. This process is called the “Travel Permit” and is expressed in a document known as “the white card”.
Juan Juan Almeida was long favored because he enjoyed, in Cuba, a privilege that in any other place is merely a right: traveling the world. For a long time this problem of the travel permit was, for him, a procedure he paid no attention to, something like having to weigh your luggage at the airport. Any superficial analysis that might be made of his exceptional situation ended up concluding that this, and other benefits he then enjoyed, was due to his being the son of Juan Almeida Bosque, a select member of the highest revolutionary aristocracy, recently deceased.
One day J.J. fell into disgrace and they let him know that now his name was on another list, that of the excluded. Because of this, he is now not allowed to arrange a medical consultation at a hospital in Europe where, as he himself explains, he might have a chance to find a treatment for an illness that has found no solution in his own country. He wrote a book, conducted interviews, wrote letters, and last Friday, November 27, for the second time went out into the street with a poster on which, it is said, he asked for the resignation of the president of the Republic.
This week, fifty-three years ago, his father sailed on the yacht Granma with Fidel and Raul Castro to initiate guerilla warfare in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Those 82 men, mostly young idealists, sought to end the second dictatorship in our short history as a republic. Freedom was then a word that was pronounced with respect, with sincere devotion.
J.J. was detained for four days at the headquarters of State Security. Had he remained there until December fifth his captors would have felt profoundly uncomfortable, because that day in the middle of the first battle against the forces of tyranny, the guerilla Juan Almeida managed to enter his voice into the history of Cuba. To stop the panic of those who were receiving the baptism of fire he shouted, “No one surrenders here, damn it!”
Because of those genes, or because this is who he is, or simply because this is the way it must always be, Juan Juan does not want to surrender, not to reclaim lost privileges, but just to demand his rights, which are also those of us all.
When I said in my blog that some of my friends living in Cuba had formed a human shield to protect me from the blows, I began to receive email messages, telephone calls, and SMS texts from virtually all the cardinal directions from my absent friends, regretting not having been able to be there with me.
The first was José Antonio Évora, the only journalist of Juventud Rebelde who, more than twenty years ago now, publicly opposed my dismissal. I received his call minutes after having been abandoned on a corner in the Marianao neighborhood, “I needed to be there.” I clarified that he had been, that I had seen him in the crowd next to the poet Julio San Francisco holding back the mob. I remember that a few steps from them were Raúl Rivero and his wife Blanquita trying to explain to some young people that I wasn’t a traitor. The photographer, Iván Cañas, snorted like a bull without deciding to use the camera to take a photo or for something else. Antonio Conte and Lichi Diego courageously faced off with some would-be partiers who wanted to hit me with their farolas, their carnival props, while Daina Chaviano pointed to the sky prophesying that the fairies would come to rescue me.
Let no one doubt it, all my friends were there. Lisset Rodes was praying with a conviction that was shaking the walls of the Avenue of the Presidents, her namesake Lisset Bustamente was haranguing the independent journalists brought by Tania Quinero; Minerva Salada broke her silence in Mexico and suddenly appeared having taken a yacht from Tuxpan; nor was Manual Pereiria off the island holding literature conferences at a university, as had been thought, but rather hugging me and getting knocked upside the head. Far from him, very far, but in the center of the tumult was Zoe Valdés, berating all those shouting at me with her inexhaustible collection of insults, and coming hand in hand with the photographer Sonia Pérez, my daughter’s mother, who wept inconsolably and kicked mercilessly. Galina, a Cuban-Soviet costume designer, believed to be in Italy, insisted on improvising a disguise so I could escape.
I swear, not one of my supporters was missing: not Kihustin Tornés, who designed the banners, nor the writer Michael Ángel Sanchez, who wrote the texts, nor the humorist Marcos García who showed up other signs, even funnier, nor the singer Rubén Aguiar, furiously brandishing his guitar. At one point I thought I saw Raulito, a neighborhood boy, thought to be dancing in a tourist nightclub in Ho Chi Ming City.
They were all there, the famous and the unknown. You don’t know how much I thank you.
You may view, here, the images I talked about in my previous post:
Rarely can a crime be proved by committing another. To those who doubted that Yoani Sánchez was beaten by State Security henchmen, to those who seemed to find a film where she is seen walking with crutches too theatrical, and who demand medical documents, x-rays with fractures, scars and bruises, to them, to all those who doubted, I ask them if they saw now the images in which a swarm of living beings, shouting, hitting and spitting at a man who went to his appointment punctually, a man who only wanted to get a response.
I was twice lucky; on the one hand the foreign press was filming everything (they also got knocked around), and on the other I suffered less of a beating because an unexpected shield of friends* took some of the blows for me. Will they now demand medical certificates?
Agent Rodney, or whatever the name is of the person I challenged to a verbal duel, lost by not showing up, but that is past history. The Nation lost by being discredited in the eyes of the world and, what is worse, the people lost, my poor people, whom they want to burden with the full weight of fanaticism that they themselves feed on.
When I got back to my house, I found it full of friends, among them Father José Conrado who gave me a hug, and counsel I will never forget: “Forgive them.”
* I note especially the blogger Eugenio Leal, the opposition figure Silvio Benítez, Pastor Manuel Morejon and the Lady in White [Damas de Blanco] Mercedes Fresneda.
Some photos from today:
I am tardy in writing about the attack on Yoani because every time I have tried to do it an inexplicable smoke with the odor of gunpowder has kept me from continuing. I counted to ten, I took a cold shower, I consulted the most moderate people, and here is the result:
I publicly challenge a person who calls himself “Agent Rodney” and who speaks and acts as if he were a member of State Security, to a duel on Friday, November 20, at five o’clock in the afternoon at the corner of 23rd and G. Not a duel of raised fists or crosses swords or pistols, but of dialog. If the man is civil, if he is convinced that what happened is supported by solid moral principles, let him come and explain his reasons for participating in the beating on Friday of last week, of which my wife was a victim. Also, if he wants to attend to contradict those who have reported the crime, this would be his opportunity. If, on the contrary, he wants to send a signal that the allegations are true, then don’t come. We will all understand the hidden message.
I am more than willing to accept his sincere apologies. I promise I will publicize them because I am a man of peace and I want to give him that opportunity. I also will accept the presence of witnesses. I emphasize that I am not calling for the foreign press nor the diplomatic corps, nor the opposition nor independent journalists, nor am I calling for the hundreds of young people who marched for nonviolence from this same corner last November 6, I am not even calling for my friends, I am just saying: I will accept witnesses.
Originally I thought to challenge him for Friday of this week, but it falls on the 13th and I don’t want to put the superstitious in any predicament, and also November 20 is the 64th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremburg trials which seems to me to be an excellent date in support of justice. As I have the impression that “Rodney” is a pseudonym, I have published his photo so he will know he is the one being called.
I will wait until six o’clock, and will go unarmed.
P.S. I refuse, in advance, the authenticity of any telephone message, email, or notice of any other nature to announce the cancellation of this appointment.
Last Thursday, October 29th, a group of us was prevented from entering a cultural center where they were planning to hold a debate about the Internet. Most of us who were excluded were alternative bloggers.
The argument offered by those in charge for blocking our access was that the institution reserved the “right of admission.” I will not use this space to detail what happened, that has already been the subject of other blogs. I prefer to dwell on something more general which is precisely an institution’s use of freedom to determine the free access of citizens to public institutions.
I remember (I’m old enough) that before 1959 there were private clubs where the directors had the right to accept or reject new members. It is known that this was used to practice racial discrimination, because even though there were no regulations or association statutes clearly addressing the issue of skin color, the rather transparent exercise of the right of admission gave rise to the practice of these and other discriminations.
An institution is entitled to have rules and to hold events whose entrance is by invitation only. So it is in the case of congresses where one must be a member to participate. But a public cultural center where an open debate has been called is another matter.
One question I haven’t fond an answer to is if a public institution has the legal prerogative to grant to itself the right of admission and if they do so whether or not they have an obligation to inform potential users with absolute clarity what peculiarities form the basis of exclusion such as, for example, a type of clothing you must wear or if you arrive accompanied by animals.
An illustration of this is the cafeterias where they warn you, with a visible sign, that it is prohibited to sell cigarettes or alcoholic drinks to minors, or the restaurants where a certain kind of clothing is required. What is unacceptable is the existence of hidden rules that one has to wrestle with as if they were a riddle.
I am convinced that those of us who were excluded from participating the debate about the Internet, held by the magazine Temas in the “Fresa y Chocolate” cultural center, were on a list compiled according to ideology. This is the same as not selling cigarettes to adult smokers because they are communists, or not allowing someone who knows how to dance enter a discothèque because they are a Christian Democrats. Most of us were Cuban bloggers living on the island, specialists in the effective use of the limited Cuban web to exercise on it our right of free expression.
We are studying a proposal to convene a debate on this same subject in which all opinions can participate. The place would have to be indisputably public, like the sands of a beach or the benches in a park, the only requirement would be the willingness to dialog or, and it is the same thing: renouncing verbal violence and rejecting personal attacks. To this debate, everyone will have the true “right of admission” which consists of the right to be admitted and not discriminated against.