Desde Dentro de Cuba.
Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org
Aug. 4, 1999.
WAITING FOR ANOTHER AUGUST By Raśl Rivero, Cuba Free Press.
HAVANA - Michell Charanicharo Placeres was 17 in 1994. On August 5 of that year, he participated in the first massive popular demonstration against the Socialist Cuban regime. What follows is his own testimony regarding his participation in those events, which shook the island nation that summer. We spoke with him at his home in Central Havana. Michell, who will soon be 20, has been denied employment. Instead, he raises chickens that he buys from the government. He takes care of them in the minimal space available to him and sells or barters them so that he and his wife may survive.
Ever since he left prison he has been unable to find a proper job because everywhere he applies for employment he is followed by his "political file" which disqualifies him. In it, he has been labeled as a "Counterrevolutionary" by the Cuban police.
The following memories are shared with the thousands of young men and women who took to the Havana streets on that fateful August 5, 1994.
Michell had his first confrontation that day with pro-government special forces belonging to the so-called "Contingent Blas Roca" (a paramilitary group deriving its name from a deceased Communist Party founder and high-level Communist official). This clash took place near the Castillo de la Punta, on the west side of Havana Bay. There were groups of people chanting "Down with Fidel" and "Long live Liberty" when the paramilitary forces arrived.
The crowd began to beat and kick the first paramilitaries to get out of their vehicles but soon additional forces arrived, armed with sticks and batons made out of reinforced steel and wearing metal construction hats for protection. They were supported by policemen in civilian clothes and by special groups of karate experts from the Office of State Security (OSS).
"That day I met with a group of friends and we went out as we normally would. But then we went to the Castillo de la Punta area because we had heard of the disturbances there and that some people intended to take over the small ferryboats that go from La Punta to Regla. We had also been told of the expected arrival of ships coming from Miami. Since I have always been in disagreement with the Castro regime, I decided to go along with my scarcely organized group. We fought Blas Roca's people hand and foot, while some berated them as 'bullies,' 'traitors,' and 'faggots.' There were many blows all around. Many stones were thrown and many violent confrontations took place. When the situation got totally out of hand we left for the Deauville Hotel, at Malecon and Galeano streets. We went shouting anti-Government slogans and entreating passers-by to join us. It was magnificent! People shouted: 'Give us Liberty!'
"Along the way we had many violent confrontations with the police and with the Blase Roc paramilitaries. I had already received many blows at La Punta and at the corner of the hotel but I was more resolved than ever. Some members of our group had splintered off and were breaking store windows on Neptuno Street. The rest of us decided to leave and take to the streets again later that night. By then, I had received more than my share of blows.
"When we arrived at Paseo del Prado street that night, it had been taken over by the police and the military and there were police cars and military vehicles all over the place. Also, the paramilitaries had set up camps and were being supplied with rations. Obviously, the leadership of the regime had been shaken up and occupied all that part of Havana with their forces.
"We kept up our protest, shouting 'Down with Fidel!' while the Government forces ran to and fro. We managed to throw some stones but they had near total control over the area.
"I returned home and went to bed. The contusions all over my body were hurting but I was happy. Next day my mom told me: 'You were on the television newscast last night.' That afternoon I saw myself on TV. Dressed in a striped black pullover and wearing green pants, I could be seen throwing rocks. Those neighbors who saw me would say, 'You had better hide because they are going to come looking for you. You were shown throwing rocks and shouting "Down with Fidel!"' I knew I had done what I did because I disagreed with the regime. So, I decided to stay at home. The footage of me kept being shown on TV and some time later photos of me were published in the magazine Bohemia.
"On August 13 the streets were in an uproar once again. I was about to go out around noon when I was arrested. The Section chief and two policemen came to take me away. When we arrived at the police station, the man at the desk said, 'Here's the stone thrower' and they kicked me and threw me in a cell while beating me on the back.
"Next day I was interrogated. An interrogator pulled me from the cell and began to ask me the names of the others who had thrown stones with me. I was shown two or three photos so I could identify them. ' Since you are the police, why don't you find out,' I said.
"I had recognized a lot of my friends but, of course, I didn't tell them so they couldn't arrest anyone. I told them I was well aware of what I had done and the interrogator hit me a couple of times. I was handcuffed. A major came into the room and I told him I had been hit while handcuffed. He appeared to reprimand the one who had hit me but it was all in jest, one big joke.
"They took me back to my cell and the interrogator said to the jailer: 'Take care of this guy; he told the major that I beat him.' They locked me up but five minutes later the interrogator took me out to a narrow hallway that separates the cells. Two jailers beat me up. They knocked out one of my teeth. I passed out from the beating and came to in my cell once again. I was accused of rebellion, counterrevolution and the whole nine yards. I spent 21 days in that jail. After that, they took me to the Department of Technical Investigations, at 100th and Aldabo streets. They opened a file on me, with pictures, fingerprints and the whole bit. 'We're going to screw you, we're going to screw you,' The guards kept telling me. From there, they took me to Prison 1580.
"This prison is located in the town of San Miguel del Padron and it is referred to as 'El Pitirre,' a small, shrill bird. The prison population was enormous and included those who had participated in the August 5 protests. All of them were very young, perhaps my age. After I spent six months at Prison 1580, they finally got around to trying me. The trial took place on November 16; the barbarians charged me with public disorder. I was sentenced to three years imprisonment but my lawyer appealed and the sentence was reduced to one year. I was imprisoned for another four months and because of the time previously served was released. Before my release, I spent time in a correctional prison, working without wages.
"Upon my release it has been impossible for me to find any work at all. I applied for work at a cigar factory but as soon as they read my police file, they refused to hire me. Later, I had a very minor disagreement with someone I had met at the cigar factory. The matter of my police file came up again and they sentenced me to six months of street cleaning. That is what I am doing now. It appears that images of me were judged as the most representative of the 5th of August protests. The press published them for the longest time afterwards. Apparently, this protest has but one lasting image, that of me throwing stones. This situation leaves me here in Havana, just waiting for another August."
Raśl Rivero, Cuba Free Press.
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