Here is an interesting story of two Canadian tourists in Cuba who were horrified when they were picked up by agents of Cuban State Security and held for hours for no apparent reason. The story is not interesting because foreign tourists were detained by Cuban State Security – Cuba is run by a totalitarian dictatorship and everyone (including tourists) is subject to detention any time, anywhere, for whatever reason or lack of reason. What makes this story interesting is that these two Canadian tourists are so deeply entrenched in ignorance that they thought the entire horrific experience was just a hoot!
Do these people look like spies to you?
In retrospect, we were probably screwed from the moment we arrived in town.
My husband, Geoff, and I spent a week in Havana in early December and we really wanted a glimpse of the amazing Cuban baseball players not available to the rest of the world. Industriales, the team from the capital that dominates Serie Nacional, was on the road for the first week of the season, but the Cazadores were at home in Artemisa, a small town an hour’s drive from Havana. We hired a taxi, and our driver, Melquiades, turned out to be a friendly guy who knew a little English and a lot of beisbol. When we arrived in Artemisa, we walked a couple of blocks to buy bottles of water and quickly realized the town never sees tourists. People turned in the street or hung over their balconies to gawk, and kids lined a schoolyard fence to stare and holler.
Things wrapped up around 4 p.m., and just as our cab left the stadium gates, a cop on a motorcycle pulled us over. Melquiades spoke with him rapidly, then the cop motioned for me and Geoff to get out and demanded to see our passports, which were locked in the safe back at the B & B. I showed him a scan of the documents I’d stored on my phone, but he just shook his head, grim and sneering. Melquiades motioned for us to get back in the cab and I figured we were headed back to Havana. But it soon became clear we were following the cop back to the police station, and my stomach lurched.
When we arrived, another cab driver was there with two men, one of whom was obviously a tourist. Dozens of Cubans in military and police uniforms milled around. The building was an ancient, depressing little bunker—a portrait of Fidel on the wall, a few benches and two desks behind a fancy little turquoise-painted balustrade at odds with the harsh surroundings. Geoff and I stood there awkwardly while the motorcycle cop examined Melquiades’s permits and scribbled down some notes. It suddenly occurred to me that they might ask about our professions, and that I probably shouldn’t admit I’m a journalist, given that the Cuban government keeps close tabs on my kind. Geoff and I debated this quietly for a few frantic seconds, but then an older police officer with a sweet, pleading face motioned us toward the benches.
Finally, after two hours, a young woman in a military uniform motioned for us to follow her down a hallway. Just then, Melquiades appeared and said, “Let’s go.” Flummoxed, Geoff and I pointed to the woman, but our cab driver barked, “Let’s GO,” and marched out the door. We scurried after him and into the cab, which was idling at the curb.
We didn’t look back as we hit the road to Havana, and the first deep breaths in two hours felt damn good. After a couple of minutes, Melquiades said, “Remember I told you about Gourriel and how the major leagues want him?” We remembered. “They thought you were scouts,” he said, deadpan. He had to repeat it three times before we absorbed it: We’d just spent two hours detained by Cuban police because they thought we were there to poach their star player. All three of us laughed almost to the point of tears. The whole thing was insane and ridiculous and terrifying—and, really, kind of awesome. “At least now we know how seriously Cubans take baseball,” Geoff said when he composed himself.
Read the entire embarrassingly ignorant account HERE.