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Daisy Valera: Until the middle of 2010, I was a university student. Today, at 22, I’m a graduate in nuclear chemistry and have joined the ranks of the Cuban work force. I love the cinema, books and architecture – even of the collapsing buildings. I like doing craftwork using thread, stone and metal. I fear monotony and I’m committed to the aim of building a better society.

A Photo, Police Officers and Beggars

January 23, 2013 | Print Print |

Daisy Valera

daisyHAVANA TIMES — Be careful! If you decide to walk down Obispo Street with a camera, hide it – immediately!

It doesn’t matter if you have professional equipment or you’re using a little disposable camera.

You might figure that on a street full of tourists and with police stationed on every block, you wouldn’t have to be so mindful.

But there I was, with a camera smaller than my hand and trying to take a photo, when three women bum-rushed me, screaming that I was working for the Miami mafia (counterrevolutionaries), and then someone slugged me.

There shopping bags were swinging in my face (“How many Cubans can afford to buy anything on Obispo?” I wondered)

They yelled, with their mouths wide open, trying to incite a hail of eggs or tomatoes aimed at my head (fortunately an egg is almost a treasure these days, and a pound of tomatoes is way too expensive).

Nearby, a police officer was dragging away an old beggar by the arm. The officer angrily picked up four dusty newspapers the guy had been trying to sell. Almost tearing them, he stuffed them in a plastic grocery bag.

The old man’s little dog was barking like crazy, while the poor man was trying to let himself fall on the ground.

Nonetheless, the women only focused on what I was trying to do, though they didn’t care that a human being’s rights were being violated in the process.

For them, perhaps the old man was no more than a filthy object that marred the immaculately clean plate-glass windows of Obispo.

The beggar seemed disoriented and sad, but those old prissy bats only had me in their sights.

“What are you going to do with that picture?” they asked.

“Whatever I want to, ma’am,” I responded, though it probably would have been better to have ignored them, but such callousness made me lash out.

Then the shouting and accusations got worse. It was a barrage of pro-government allegations, a scene that in my mind was something that only happened on TV.

No one organized these women to carryout an “act of repudiation.” This was completely spontaneous.

The people surrounding us stood there as spectators, merely watching in silence.

I managed to ease away, with the police still dragging the beggar down an Obispo side street.

I was scared. A mixture of anguish and anger was squeezing my chest.

How many Cubans care more about the international image of the government than the safety and welfare of their fellow citizens?

How many people question the impunity of the Police?

How many are willing to level serious accusations at others without thinking about the consequences?

I don’t have the least idea. This is a certainty that I’m only able to speak about following that situation of helplessness. Perhaps a camera at the right place and the right time can be a weapon against inertia.


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    The regime and its defenders act like sociopaths: hyper vigilant, paranoid, projecting fears, and erupting to violence at imaginary enemies. This is the real New Man the revolution has created.

    • Ryan

      One event, admittedly disturbing, and Cuban detractors happily paint a great number of the Cuban population with the broad brush of hyperbolic smear. Enjoy it– but you are sad.

      • Moses Patterson

        Ryan, Griffin, in his comment wrote “the regime and its defenders” not the Cuban population. An important distinction as I have family in Cuba and they would never do this to anyone simply for taking a picture. On the other hand, you are aware, I assume, of the Rapid Response Brigades and the repudiation rallies that take place all the time in Cuba? Are you old enough to remember years ago in Cuba the use of the word ‘gusano’ and how people had eggs thrown at them because they were leaving Cuba? There is sadness indeed.

      • Griffin

        Not one event Ryan. The Cuban police carried out over 6000 express detentions of political dissidents in 2012.

        One year ago while walking through Vedado, I witnessed a group of police beating a man for no apparent reason I could determine. The Cuban people looked away and crossed the street to avoid the scene. Just another day in the Socialist Paradise.

        Furthermore, the projections and accusations don’t just happen in Cuba. I get quite a few insults from Castro apologists on this site who object to anybody pointing out the reality of life in Cuba.

      • Luis

        Yes Ryan, that’s the way of a propagandist. And if you do not hold a less radical position than ‘Cuba is Hell on Earth’, you get a nice ‘Castro sycophant’ label.

        Sad indeed.

  • Carey Maria

    After thirteen years visiting Cuba i have never met any Cubans who dont value the safety and welfare of their fellow Cuban citizens. The photo shows the posture of a police man with his weight away from the man , and a helping getsure with his hands. Where is the photo of the beggar struggling on the floor ?

    Your statement is highly imaginative ;
    perhaps the old man was no more than a filthy object that marred the immaculately clean plate-glass windows of Obispo.

    Not exactly unbiased reporting-on a scene that you didnt actually investigate fully

    • Moses Patterson

      Carey, you are amazing! From just a photo, you can contradict the word of an eyewitness. You should work for the FBI. Aren’t there enough Castro sycophants anyway?

  • Moses Patterson

    President Obama, during his historically inclusive inaugural speech two days ago, warned against confusing absolutism for principles. His remarks appear to have been a veiled reference to those on the extreme right. Fortunately, for Americans, the most powerful office in the land understands the potential harm extremists can bring to a democracy. There is hope for Americans. In Cuba, it is the Castro’s and their desire to hold power at all costs which foment if not direct these extremists. For Cubans, there is no hope.

  • Grady R. Daugherty

    Daisy, I am shocked at what happened to you!

  • Steve Marshall

    I have just returned from Cuba after four weeks documenting the ‘Streets of Havana”. I’m an ‘obvious’ and ‘deliberate’ documentary photographer so when I’m shooting (with two Nikons) the chance of me being questioned or accosted is very high, indeed.

    It did happen though, only once, at the corner of San Martin Street and Ave. de Italia (Galiano), near Obispo Street in Old Havana. There are far fewer tourists around here.

    An intelligence officer pulled me aside and grilled me for an hour. In the end he asked me for CUC5, then let me go. He went on to arrest the guy I had photographed. I also witnessed many Habaneros that were arrested for interacting with tourists, and I photographed that, too.