Incident on the Train in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
A rundown, dirty and lumbering train is the means of transport that not only I, but hundreds of people use to travel on a journey that begins in the Pinar del Rio provincial capital and takes us to a distant municipality.
Many trains have been canceled recently because of a lack of fuel, and that’s when people find themselves forced to hitch a ride on the highway, which we call “coger botella” around here.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I’d like to tell you about a scene that happened a few days ago, in one of the train’s wagons, full of people including myself.
Three men were talking out loud about the situation. They complained about medicine shortages, about prices, widespread shortages and lastly, the conversation turned towards the thousand-something political prisoners that protested on July 11th and 12th last year.
I joined the conversation, and, in a few minutes, I had approximately nine people listening to me as if I were leading a political rally.
A few meters away, a 60-something-old-man was watching me and made comments that I couldn’t make out over the train’s loud engine. However, judging by his facial expressions, you didn’t have to be a smartass to understand the hostility in them.
At one point, when the train stopped at the first town, I asked him what he was saying. He moved forward to where I was and raising his voice asked:
“If you don’t like your country, why the hell don’t you leave?”
I had an elderly man just a couple of meters in front of me, who had lived a hard life judging by his many wrinkles, and he was telling me off with no respect whatsoever. A man who wouldn’t stand a good punch or two from me. Trust me, the desire was there.
The three men from the beginning began to make comments with words like “There’s always someone,” “It isn’t easy, there are still people like this around.”
Given his age, people booing him, and given the fact I’m not a violent man… because of all this, I tried to be assertive, initiating a conversation as best I could.
I lowered my voice and forgot the insults.
“I like my country, what I don’t like is the dictatorship that oppresses it, I was born here, it’s my country, I don’t need to leave.”
“You’re talking badly about the Revolution and our country.”
“What you call revolution is a dictatorship and that’s not what Cuba is, nor is it the Communist Party, or socialism. Cuba is this land, its people.” My voice was firm, but my tone was soft, educational.
“What dictatorship are you talking about? Dictatorship is Capitalism,” his voice had also calmed down in aggressiveness by now.
“About this dictatorship, the one that has ruined the lives of thousands of young people, locking them up for up to 20 years because they protested on July 11th, this wouldn’t happen in a free country, but here something as basic as freedom of speech isn’t respected.”
“We do have freedom of speech here, what we don’t allow is raising our voices and giving rallies like you are, and those criminals weren’t peaceful, they took to the streets to beat people and throw stones.”
“Oh, Mr, please, everybody saw the protests, most of them were peaceful and the people going around beating other people were the police and some people like you, everybody saw that, because it seems only you, the minority, are allowed to raise your voice, hold rallies, and even give out beatings. You yourself came here to shout at me.”
Almost every passenger in that train wagon was looking at me and they nodded with their heads as a display of their solidarity.
“Because I can’t let you talk badly about this revolution,” he replied with renewed hostility.
From that moment on, everyone around me began to jeer at him, raising their voices to call him a snitch, among other compliments. Luckily, the train picked back up again with its normal sound and the man moved away, annoyed, given my lack of attention to his shouting and the commotion coming from the crowd.
This all happened in a matter of minutes, things went back to normal. It seemed like nothing had happened. My adrenaline levels began to drop. That’s when I was able to process the importance of what had happened. For the first time ever, I had publicly talked about my opinions on the system.
The reality is that I’ve got in a scuffle or two before, but there had only been two or three witnesses. This time, the auditorium had over 40 people.
“I was a hero in some people’s eyes, a crazy man in the majority’s eyes or an idiot for exposing myself.” “For others, I was provoking him because I work for State Security.” “Thank God there were no police around, I’d have been arrested.”
That’s when negative ideas began to settle in my mind, which I brushed off with a stoic thought that I always turn to when I feel like I’m in danger. “I’m a ball of balls.”
I reached my destination. A few hours passed by, but I couldn’t shake the fear in my body.