Aug 5, 2009

15 years ago...

Photo credit: Karel Poort, Deutch photographer that was in Havana during the summer of 1994.

The "Maleconazo", the spontaneous uprising of Cubans in the streets of Havana took place during the hot summer afternoon of August 5th, 1994.

I was still living there. I've gone to one class at the university that morning and returned back to my secluded and almost incommunicado -in the peak of the "special period"- neighborhood, east of Havana.

I learned about what happened later on the day, when a neighbor that was coming back home from Centro Habana saw what was happening in the streets.

Only those who happened to be in that high-transited area of the capital learned first hand what was going on. The national newscast, surprise!, on its evening edition, put up some pieces conveniently whitewashed by the State Security, with the videos concentrating mostly in the images of Castro I, taking the glory of walking in el Malecón during the disturbs.

No mention there was no protester left by the time he arrived.
No mention the construction workers from the Blas Roca brigade that were hauled in trucks, mixed with police and military officers in plain clothes, to bit up the protesters with iron bars.

Here is a series of unpublished photos from Karel Poort, a Dutch photographer that was in Havana in those days, posted at Desarraigos Provocados (Spanish). Check them in detail and you'll be able to see the plain clothes regime's thugs waving guns at the protesters.
The heat had been piling on since the tugboat massacre.
We were having 8 hours with electricity and 8 hours without it, on a rotating basis, every single day. And we, living in the capital, were lucky. My relatives in Pinar del Río and Ciego Ávila were surviving with stretches of blackouts of 12-14 hours in a row. It was summer time in the Caribbean, remember?

No food with the rationing card, almost nothing to get in the black market. Red kidney beans from last century -they were hard as rocks- was barely the only thing you would get from the government.

We had to wash clothes with aspirins and rinse them in water mixed with a little bit of alcohol in order to get rid of some of the dirt and stinking smell of human sweat in summer time...

The black market exchange for US dollars was between 120-150 pesos while the median salary was around 180 Cuban pesos a month. You do the math...

The regimen pushed the Cuban spirit to its outer limits; and they succeed. The Maleconazo, as spontaneous as it was, ended up in a matter of hours.

A few days later, a meager ration of chicken, half pound of cooking oil per person and some domestic dish washing liquid -throught the rationing card- did the trick.
And business was back as usual.

Recently someone told me, back there in el terruño, that the regimen used "the special period" to test Cubans limits, to test them as to how long would the sheep take it.

"They succeed," this person told me. "Now they know nothing will happen if they push us to those limits again, and they will do in the next chance they have."

"Indeed,"I said. "It is just the poster example of how the dictatorship has been breaking Cubans souls for 50 years. We've been broken down, and I am not sure whether is too late..."

Only a handful are resisting and, sadly, they go almost unknown by the average Cuban. They are the unsung heroes of an island that is stuck in time and lost in the future.

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