Monday, November 9, 2009

In a Police Station

It was November 1999 and was coming home from my girlfriend house after an unfortunate night that ended with our relationship of two years. The night was warm and I was wearing probably my best clothes. I was walking down “Monte”, a dark avenue at 1.30 am, almost reaching “Cuatro Caminos”, a very important intersection in Havana when, trying to avoid a huge water leak coming from a Clinic nearby, I stepped over the sidewalk. With the dark and my mind fussing about the break up, I didn’t notice that behind the huge columns of the portal, three guys were watching my moves.

It was in a blink of an eye. One grabbed me from my neck, the second hold my legs and the last one beat me on my stomach and my face, breaking my nose. They threw me over the sidewalk, pulled my watch, my wallet (in which I only kept 10 dollars, my keys and my ID, nothing else) and a silver bracelet I was wearing, an old gift from my grandfather, the most valuable item they robbed me I would say.

The assault was fast and furious (that is a movie, but it wasn’t in my case). They kicked me everywhere and tried to get whatever valuables items I was in possession that doomed night. Fortunately for me, a group of people were approaching and they had to let me go. Well, to say it more properly, they let me there on the floor: covered in blood, dizzied and confused.

As soon I was recovered, I turned to home as soon as possible, remembering that in their possessions were my keys and my ID, with which they could enter my house and assault my mother. Next day, upset with myself I went to the next police station settled in “Zanja” and “Dragones” to report my assault. It was a day that changed definitely my vision about how police behave in Cuba.

By the way,I don’t know for what reason every police station in Havana has an architecture imitating a small little castle, with towers, arches and all those characteristics details that identify them.

The station was full of people, and probably because it was early morning the tempers were a bit high. In the desk I asked to the police seated there how to report an assault. The police, who was probably not in his better mood, asked me which kind of report, where it was the assault and how I didn't have any visible sign of it.

All the questions were asked in a blow with a subtle anger and when I explained a bit, he turned his eyes to me for the first time and asked me upset and disturbed why I waited so long and how it was possible there wasn't any police on my way home that night.

A bit cynical and a bit angry with his questions and doubts I added: “You guys after midnight go to bed; there is no police at night in Havana”.

I remember counting myself minutes before I received his answer, but he thought twice and told me I had to go to the police station in “Infanta”, because the assault had happened in their territory, and that was it. He turned around and walked out from the desk and, of course, I left the place more mortified than how I arrived.

The next step was to go to “Infanta”. That police station is once again another kind of little faked castle with a high stairs in his front porch. The sensation, funny to say it, is like you are climbing to see a king, but you find a huge emptied and colder space at the end of which there is a huge desk with the usual police seating behind the desk (reading some papers, again).

I repeated my unfortunate story again with bit more of patience and relaxed this time. The guy was cal and almost bored, just when I finish my tale he added I had to have a seat and wait for someone who had to call me. I remember looking around the room and trying to figure out where to go. That room was huge, in the door there was a police standing there, to his left there were two benches, on his right another two benches. It seems Orwellian how symmetrical are the police stations in Cuba.

Anyway, the place was empty except for one skinny young guy, no more taller than me, and no more skinny also, a mulato kind of guy, no more than 19 year old who was seated in one of the benches of the right, and I went to have a seat there, close to him. For some reason, I felt more comfortable close to someone who was waiting like me. As soon I was seating the young man asked me what happened to me and I explained him. I can’t forget how extraordinary and remarkable was the fact that he told me that I couldn’t walk too late at night for those places on the sidewalk. I had to agree to that remark.

And I was in the move to ask him why he was there, when the police behind the desk almost shouting told me that I had to get a seat in the others benches across the room, because I was seating in “the benches of the accused”. Suddenly, in that very moment, I found out that the guy was handcuffed and behind us there was a sign saying: “ACUSSED”.

Smiling, I crossed the room to the seats with the sign of “VICTIMS”. I was discovering a whole new world, like the little prince of my favourite book: police stations are places where everything is labelled, and everything is in its proper place.

It was after 10 minutes when a strong police approached to the desk and started talking to the other one behind when, suddenly, in a quick move he noticed my “friend” from the bench: the ACCUSED side kind of guy. What happened then it is in my memory with red letters, I won’t forget for the rest of my life.

The police ran to the guy, grabbed him for the collar of his shirt and started to swear like a demon telling how awful he was, how miserable little rat, etc. Of course, I am being a little bit decent here, but you can image what he was telling. That’s not my point here.

In just a blink of an eye, he was punching the guy on his face, his chest, his stomach like a maniac, yelling and swearing at him. What I can’t forget is the face of the guy and his attitude: he was bleeding from his lips and grasping the air with spasmodic moves every now and then when the police allowed him between every punch from his fist.

Suddenly, I saw myself standing there, watching in a police station how a police was beating a young man who wasn’t doing anything, telling anything, nor even watching him, and I was horrified. You can guess why: I was there to file a complaint for an assault, and I was witnessing an assault myself from the police to a guy handcuffed, immobilized, inside a police station.

My recollections from that point are confused, and I only remember the guy was sent to jail after the beating. I did all the procedures to denounce the assault. They even tried to change the charges for other sort of charges, which I complained and protested. They wanted to change for something less important, more trivial, in order to decrease the amount of reports, I guess, filed in the same category that day (Even now, I don’t get the point, especially when you know in Cuba those numbers are unknown by the public and the media).

At the end, I remember arriving home shocked, disturbed and depressed. I just had witnessed myself how an authority was abusing his power against someone who was defenceless.

There are no words to describe the fact. Of course, you can say that the little guy was there for something he did.

It doesn’t matter. As soon he is there quiet, tranquil and peaceful, there is no reason in this world to beat a human being. A police, an authority, can’t abuse of his power to assault anybody with no reason and cowardly.

I never was in a police station before, but I had heard many times those stories, and for some reasons I couldn’t believe them.

Since November 24, 1999 I believe that the Cuban police is abusive, cruelly repressive and coward.

I hadn’t step in a police station again, but I know that facts like that one are happening day after day in my country and today, I have no doubt whatsoever.