No More Compulsory Military Service in Cuba!
They looked lost. They were on their way back from taking a break from the previa of compulsory military service. For those of you who don’t know, “previa” is what we call a couple of weeks that young people spend training military and infantry tactics, etc., before becoming soldiers for two years.
They were coming from Babineyes, a remote place in the far-western part of the province. The military base they were going back to is 8 km south of Pinar del Rio city, and they needed to get there before nightfall.
They were so slim, so much so that their deep eye sockets reminded me of photos of tortured prisoners of war.
“Are they giving you a really rough time?” I asked them.
They told me that they have to be up and standing at 5:30 AM and that they don’t stop running and marching nearly the entire time, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed, carrying backpacks and artifacts. They are abused by men just like them, with the only difference being a couple of lines that mark them as a drill sergeant or officer. Food is scarce and they were given almost rotten minced meat a week ago, that they couldn’t eat.
Immature, they can’t have been older than 18. They stirred paternal feelings in me. They were two kids from the countryside who I’m sure had come to the city for the first time and had no idea where to go, or what transport to take to get back in time.
I guided them to the bus terminal that was close by and luckily, they managed to find a bus heading where they needed to go in half an hour.
I felt sorry for them. I told them, “it all passes, you are very young and have your whole lives ahead of you.” “You need to make sure you don’t get on a plane under any circumstance, for them to send you to die in Ukraine,” I blurted out the latter half-joking, half-serious.
“Not over my dead body.” “I’m counting the days until I can leave,” the chattier one replied.
“Don’t believe it,” I replied. “They’ll put you on a plane telling you you’re going to Havana or another province. Don’t get on a plane even if you’re dead.” “I’m being serious.”
I remembered my time serving my compulsory military service, which was almost identical to their experiences, with the additional problem of not having so many passes to leave.
I thought about previous appeals, such as those of old people today. Months and months cutting sugar cane, far from home and without our family having any news. Or in international wars, playing the role of a pawn that is sacrificed in a game of chess played by a tyrant who doesn’t care about your life.
Generation after generation being crushed by a useless and compulsory military service. A time when young people in this country die and the majority waste their time with pain, fulfilling the wishes of another.
So, I bid them farewell, an affectionate handshake between strangers that took me back to the time when I myself was a slim and immature young man who was counting the days to get out of that prison.