They are there to watch and record us. Dozens, hundreds of cameras scattered throughout the city, as if it were not enough that there are vans filled with police, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) on every block, and the security forces in their checked shirts. They have been installed with an efficiency rarely seen in the execution of any project of public benefit. Their sophisticated structure is the same on streets where half the houses are on the verge of falling down, as in the modern tourist enclaves and on the sumptuous Fifth Avenue. They capture those who traffic in beef, sell drugs, or steal a gold chain; but they also monitor those who don’t keep guns under their beds, but rather opinions in their heads.
When these “fish eyes” began to be installed everywhere, they generated a sense of paralysis among Havanans. I remember looking for blind spots where the crystal globes couldn’t see me. Then I relaxed a little and learned to live with them, though I still felt the itch on the back of my neck of a person who knows they are being observed. Among the speculations about these filming devices is one that they have face-detection programs – including a data base – that read anthropometric measurements. But comments of this kind may well belong to the fantasy catalog generated by everything new.
These public cameras – the embodiment of the Orwellian “telescreen” – have ushered in a new cinematography. Although they basically operate automatically, some hands have leaked their contents to the alternative information networks. Dozens of images are emerging from the police archives and circulating right now, by flash memory. Videos where we see ourselves committing crimes, surviving, stealing and rebelling. Minutes of police beatings, car crashes and images of prostitution between young boys and tourists twice their age. One is a complete and shocking snuff movie, which for weeks jumped from one screen to another, from cell phones to DVD players.
Without intending it, the police have given us the crudest testimony they could about our present reality. A succession of scenes that, no doubt, will be stored in the visual memory of this country.