“This isn’t news, it’s counterrevolution”
“The money, you dick!” was heard, followed by a clamor. Then a succession of confused screams and the boos and cheers of protesters. It was November 30, and a crowd of close to 500 people clogged the corner of 5th Avenue and 40th, in Miramar.
Some demanded money, others visas. From behind the police cordon impeding access to the Ecuadorian embassy, ??someone was on a megaphone, but we could only hear an unintelligible mumbling. “We can´t hear! We can´t hear!” the crowd cried. “Bring out the ambassador! We want to talk to him!”
Dozens of mobile phones, help up over the heads of those on hand, recorded videos. Foreign media reporters showed up with cameras and microphones. Some reporters from the official media lurked nearby, and from the throng some shouted, “Press! Press! I want to talk!”
A young blue-eyed woman got the scoop: “Gentlemen, the officials have announced that they will let us in. Now we must clear 5th Avenue! ” “We’re not going anywhere, no way!” the mob yelled. “They’ve got some nerve! We want the visas they promised!” A young black man with sparkling gold teeth asked for a mike. “We hope to go away, without incident. Please. I ask the esteemed ambassador to grant us our visas!”
Just then I noticed that my phone battery was running out, and the sunlight kept me from checking the quality of the photos I’d taken. I decided to go for my camera and recorder. I got on my bike and took off. When I returned the protestors had calmed down, but 5th Avenue was still closed to traffic.
I took out my camera and snapped some shots. I just needed to get some opinions before leaving. Suddenly someone said: “Pablo Pascual Méndez Piña, put way your camera and come with us.” I looked and saw two plain-clothes police officers next to me.
We left the area of the conflict. After telling me to erase the photos, one asked me: “Why are you looking for trouble?” “I’m an independent journalist,” I answered. “And a crowd of 500 demonstrators that stops traffic on 5th Avenue is news.” To which one of the guards shot back: “This isn’t news. It’s counterrevolution.”
While I gave them my ID, another officer was checking up on me on his walkie talkie. One of the officers proceeded to demonstrate his knowledge of my life and career, and to comment on the contents of some of my articles, quick to assure me that I was under the strictest surveillance.
A patrol car arrived, they stowed my bicycle in back, took my belongings, cuffed me, and put me in the vehicle. “To the holding cell!” spat the leader. And that white Geely, with 666 (the number of the beast) plates, ate up the stretch of pavement separating 3rd and 40th from 7th and 62nd, where the municipality of Playa’s Criminal Investigation Unit is located. There I was informed that I had been arrested by order of Lieutenant Colonel Camilo.
They removed my handcuffs and led me to the area before the cells, where they told me to place my personal effects on a counter. A lieutenant colonel in counterintelligence asked me for some general information and noted it down on a form before asking: “Boy, didn’t you hear what the Government said?” To which I answered: “I’m just as interested in what the Cubans protesting on 5th Avenue had to say.”
The lieutenant colonel, coincidentally, had to leave on other business. My mobile rang and the officer told me to “take it.” It was my wife. I told her I had been detained, and was being held at 7th and 62nd. When I hung up I felt more relaxed. The lieutenant colonel reappeared and ordered me to turn off my phone. Then an official proceeded to inventory my belongings. An officer told me that my wife was asking for me. I was surprised by her quick reaction.
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