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.