I wasn’t yet old enough to go to school and I was at the park the neighbors in the area called “Carlos III,” although the maps insisted on labeling it “Carlos Marx.” My sister and I were playing in the dry fountain, jumping from one bench to another. At some point we glanced over at the site of the Masonic Lodge at the corner of Belascoain and the globe on its roof was throwing out gray smoke, slowing burning up in front of our eyes. I remember we shouted at my father, “Papi! The world is on fire!” and the three of us ran to the building guard to tell him. In a few minutes the fire trucks came and from that day the reproduction of the planet ceased to turn, its rotating mechanism stopped working… for decades.
In this same park from my childhood, the Critical Observatory* held a meeting yesterday, in solidarity with the worldwide movement of the outraged. Hours before the demonstrators arrived, the area was taken by the political police as well as uniformed guards. Several activists and journalists were detained before they got there, and taken to distant neighborhoods so they could not participate. The event finally happened, although with marked haste and low attendance. They were able, however, to display a pair of anti-capitalist banners, take some photos, and connect, from a distance, with the current of discontent shaking countries like Spain, England and the United States. The attendees sang the Internationale and some habituates of the place discovered — just then — the face of the author of Das Kapital chiseled into the wall. Fifteen minutes later #12MGlobal ended in Havana and the children returned to take over the empty fountain, the benches, and the bust in relief of a man born in Germany in 1818. At night, prime time news would report the protests in London and Madrid, while remaining silent about the demonstration on our national territory.
Despite the limited number of attendees and the narrow ideology of the convocation, what happened yesterday is something that enriches Cuban civil society. The official sectarianism doesn’t distinguish between nonconformists on the left or right, suspicious of all who dare to criticize, regardless of their affiliation. In the offices of State Security they will have an open file on Jose Daniel Ferrer as well as Pedro Campos, they will follow the tracks of the Patriot Union of Cuba, as well as those of the Critical Observatory with suspicion. To totalitarianism, it doesn’t matter if its dissidents say they embrace the same doctrine as the once official manuals, criticizing alone is enough to land them in the same sack of enemies. This country stuck in political inertia needs to get moving, urgently needs to embark on the path of pluralism and democracy. Like the globe at the corner of Carlos III and Belascoaín, Cuba must begin to move. Perhaps at first it will turn to the left or to the right, it will stumble and waffle until it finds its own rhythm. But from now on, no one can impose a single direction, no one has the right to constrain it to a single path.
Translator’s note: “Critical Observatory” is a group challenging the Castro regime from the left. An article in which a member describes the group, in English, is here; and a report of Saturday’s protest from the same author is here.