At age nine, a fall from a considerable height would give a resounding twist to his life. It would prevent him from ever walking again. He had to endure endless surgeries, which turned his adolescence into a cruel and painful time.
Despite all this, perhaps the God whom he invokes so frequently rewarded him with a spirituality strong enough to prevent his misfortune from ruining his smile. With barely any effort, now forty, he carries an undeniable distinction: enjoying, in his city, a much greater popularity than someone far from power or glory could be expected to achieve.
His name: Carlos Jesús Reyna. His house, located on one of the busiest arterials of eastern Bayamo, is a required meeting place for the most diverse and colorful characters of this city. His circle of friends and acquaintances range from respected doctors and lawyers, to criminals famous for their chronic misdeeds.
He knows that, after many vicissitudes, to be able to count on his legion of friends is an outright defeat for the system he suffered.
Because this man from Bayamos whose image could not pass unnoticed among the loftiest multitudes, with his long hair and his clothes which loudly declare him a fan of Argentine football, has, for almost two decades, suffered the effects of a political marginalization he never deserved.
– What was the origin of your political confrontation in this city?
Look, there’s a history to the fact that marked a before and after in that regard. It was a complaint that I made in 1993 against four police officers for abuse of authority.
Until then, I never had problems with any official body.
However, the nightlife I always had with several friends — we stayed until after midnight in some parks — attracted the arbitrariness of the police who, without any reasons or legal basis, expelled us from public places, supposedly because we were potential criminals.
Why? Because they said that someone who works can’t stay out late in the street. If we were out later than they thought we should be, we were antisocials. All of us were studying or working, but that wasn’t good enough for them. They came to arrest us and other times they fined us.
I denounced this situation, and two of the four that I accused were punished by military tribunals. However, as you will understand, with that I earned myself the eternal hatred of the police of this city. It was really a preamble to what would come some months later.
– The accusation of the crime of “enemy propaganda” …
Exactly. They hung me on the cross of being an antisocial who painted subversive anti-government posters.
– Tell me about that incident in detail.
– That was in the early morning of June 13, 1993.
Four of us friends had just arrived at Cespedes park, I think we had been sitting there some twenty minutes when someone called my attention to the benches, near us, where there were several signs written on the granite benches themselves in green crayon. The signs read “Down with Fidel” and “Down with the dictatorship.”
One of the first who noticed them, out of nervousness I think, started trying to erase them but the crayon wouldn’t come off easily. So we decided to leave, knowing that it could create serious problems for us.
– You went to your homes?
– No. It was Saturday and we went to the party at some other friends, not far from there.
I don’t think we had been there ten minutes when a police operation, with three patrol cars and several cops in uniform stopped the party. They arrested everyone, including those who hadn’t been anywhere near where the signs were painted.
For me, because of my physical condition, they sent for a separate patrol car. They took us to the station and put us in the cells without even asking for an explanation. When we asked them, the only thing they said was, “You know why you are here.”
The next day, Sunday, they took us to another station, highest security, underground, where they investigated all os us and processed us for crimes against State Security.
Because of my condition they locked me in a cell for women, because it was the only one that had a mattress. In the others there were only cement beds. In fact, I had spent the previous night in my wheelchair because where they detained us there were only cement beds and to put me there wold have certainly caused me to have sores.
We were in this other station almost 72 hours. They didn’t give us reasons, we had no lawyers nor laws involved. They kept telling us to confess, that we knew what we had done. They interrogated us about every hour, without letting us sleep or rest. They tested our handwriting; we had to write “Viva Fidel” and “Viva la Revolucion” about 700 or 800 times on pieces of paper.
After the third day they themselves feared for my physical state, because I said I wasn’t going to eat or drink water. By the way, I remember that before that, there was a day I asked for a towel to dry my face, and they gave me, like a joke, a rag for cleaning the floor. Then, because of my strike, they took me home, in a kind of house arrest. The rest had to stay there as prisoners for a week.
In those days no one could visit me, no friend nor family member: only the officials who came to interrogate me almost nonstop.
Until one day they found the real author of those posters who had nothing to do with us and confessed his guilt form the beginning. At that time they decided to release all the detainees and declare us innocent. The same State Security decreed us innocent.
– But what was this “decree”? Was it written?
No, they had meetings in the neighborhoods where each one lived, except in mine, to clarify that they had been processed by mistake and that they were innocent.
– What about you?
I was the only one they didn’t do this “act of reparation” with. They apologized to my parents, and to me, but nothing in public. We thought it was all over, when the truth was the real consequences were yet to come.
THE STREETS BELONG TO THE REVOLUTIONARIES
– What were the consequences afterward of that incident on you?
Then real police war against me started. There was a hostility that affected me in everything having to do with public life.
As a result of my complaint against the four officers, I became known among them, because it is rare here that anyone would dare to charge them, so they seized the excuse to discredit me socially, and to keep me in a state of unbearable social pressure.
They threatened anyone who came near me. If a girl stopped on the street to talk with me, they came up and in front of me asked her for her identification, and they told her she was having a relationship with someone cursed and she could be judged for that.
To give you an idea: I couldn’t go to the movies, nor the nightclubs, under the ridiculous pretext that I could provoke an attack in these public places. They would come and take me out of the movie theater with this pretext. Also they wouldn’t let me enter some places where food is sold…
– Such as?
A hamburger joint this city had at the time.
As it was in the middle of the Special Period, the lines to buy hamburgers were endless and the police were needed to organize them.
One of those days I was in the line and an official called Adis Zamora, who is still a policeman today, took me out of the line and publicly embarrassed me saying that I had no right so even eat a piece of bread produced by this Revolution.
Another day, in the Sierra Maestra Hotel, another official also still active, named Rafael Varela Luna, told me I could never enter this hotel. That the streets and all the places on them belonged to the revolutionaries.
Any time I left my house, without five minutes there would be a policeman controlling where I went and who I talked to. They publicly humiliated me: they told me I was crippled, they offended me.
– And at some point this situation started to change?
It changed because of a letter I sent to the Council of State in 1994, asking for a writ of protection from the President of the Republic because in my city I had no constitutional guarantees. My life had no sense or protection, because any officer could threaten me with total impunity.
I wrote another letter to the Commission for Human Rights in Cuba. I even remember that the preist who officiated at that time in Bayamo, Father Palma, prayed for me publicly, and let the Cathedral know about my case.
I began to take on the connotation of being a leader which I had never wanted. I was simply a citizen who wanted his constitutional rights to be respected.
– And was there a response from the Council of State?
They sent two colonels sent to my house to talk to me. They investigated, they found that my report was true, and took some measures with those principally responsible. They guaranteed me that this police harassment was going to stop right then and there.
But by then I had expressed my complete distancing from the organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), I had decided not to vote in the elections, because I considered myself betrayed and unjustly punished by all the official bodies around me.
I remember that I was no longer afraid of going to jail for expressing my disagreement publicly, because I was being held prisoner on the street just as if I was in prison.
They forced me to confront the system directly. Before they had built this story I was an ordinary citizen and although I had my own ways of seeing what was going on in this country, I didn’t express them publicly.
But when you see that you are attacked and charged with no justice of any kind, and that all the “factors” of society are against you, it becomes impossible to maintain a position far from complaint and confrontation.
We began our friendship about five years ago. A closeness based on affection, solidarity and mutual interests: music, football. I don’t exaggerate if I say that he is perhaps one of the most original and admirable people I have ever met.
Not only because from his suffering he has built an amazing personality, which appeals to the engineer as much as to the alcoholic, but because he has succeeded, through sheer dignity, in deflating this explosive defamation campaign that had been launched against him.
Most of all, his real merit is shown in that those around him disregard those allegations. Because being true, I must say it: Carlos Jesús Reyna was never able to be the same guy from Bayamo who previously went through the day, in his wheel chair, just like any other regular citizen.
The first time I was investigated myself in the neighborhood where I live, had its origin in my friendship with him. When another friend we have in common was the boyfriend of the girl who is today his wife, they called the mother of the girl to tell her, “Be careful, your daughter is now the girlfriend of someone who goes around with a boy who paints signs against the Government.”
He knows it. We all know it. At this point it is simply material for jokes. Fortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, tyranny and evil never have the last word.