Saturday, April 28, 2012

Andrés Carrión: “I thought I wouldn’t return, I thought this would be the last day of my life.” / Yoani Sánchez

Andrés Carrión: "I thought I wouldn't return, I thought this would be
the last day of my life." / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

A few weeks have already gone by since Pope Benedict XVI's visit to
Cuba, and one name comes up again and again to evoke those last days of
March. Andrés Carrión, age 40, the citizen who shouted at the Pope's
homily in Santiago de Cuba, "Down with Communism!" He turned the eyes of
the world from their contemplation of the Pope's miter to the face of a
man held by his captors and beaten by a supposed member of the Red
Cross. Today, still under the effects of passing from anonymity to
notoriety, he answers a few questions.

Yoani Sanchez: How did the idea come to you, of taking that action at
the Plaza Antonio Maceo? Was it a personal initiative or was there a group?

Andrés Carrión: I do not belong to any opposition party, even today I
still do not belong to any. However, these days I have received the
solidarity of various activist groups, especially in the east of the
country. The idea of this action came to me alone, and I didn't tell
anyone, fearing that the information would filter out and keep me from
carrying it out. José Martí said, "There are things that in order to
achieve them you have to keep very hidden." That was how I was able to
get there. I had a civic motivation and principles: Cubans should do
something so that the world will know about the violations and the great
problems confronting us here with the freedom of expression and human
rights. I carried all this inside for a long time and it was time to say

YS: How did you reach the place despite the police cordon?

AR: I arrived about eleven in the morning. I saw the preparations for
the Mass and found a strategic place for my position. There I stood. In
my pocket I had some candy and a bottle of water, and with that I held
out until 5:40 in the afternoon, when I rushed into action. There were
two security cordons. At one point I decided, and crossed the first
cordon. Once inside I went running to stand before the altar and shouted
several slogans: 'Down with Communism! Down with dictatorship! Freedom
for the people of Cuba! ' and when they caught me and held me I managed
to shout 'Monsignor don't be fooled, the people of Cuba are not free!'

YS: Many have applauded your actions on March 26, but others criticize
you for using the space of a Catholic Mass to shout a slogan of a
political nature. What would you say to the latter?

AR: I sent a letter to the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba to explain why
I did it and to apologize to the Pope and the entire Catholic community.
But they must understand and everyone should understand that we Cubans
do not have spaces in which to express ourselves. Because of that one
looks for a place to be heard and I think this was an opportunity that
could I not pass up. It was not my intention to tarnish the Mass, so
I've told several priests with whom I have spoken and they have
understood me. I'm Catholic and I did it with no interest in harming the
Church or the figure of the Pope.

YS: What were the main accusations leveled against you by the police
during the 20 days you were detained? What punishments did they threaten
you with?

AR: I was not physically abused. I know the beatings other opponents
have received, but I think with so many eyes on me or maybe because the
Pope had interceded, they decided not to retaliate physically against
me. Yes, they put me for several days in a cell that was very dark and
very smelly. There was no clean water there and the light went on only
for ten minutes at six in the morning and again for ten minutes at six
in the evening. After 20 days they released me but they made me sign a
paper where I am limited in my freedom. I have to show up every
Wednesday at the police station, I cannot leave town without permission,
I cannot meet with any opponents, I cannot give interviews, I cannot
participate in demonstrations. But I have complied with almost none of
this. They are not going to shut me up that way.

YS: A man, wearing the logo of the Red Cross, attacked you and even hit
you with a stretcher. What do you think they should do about such
aggressive behavior? How do you feel towards him right now?

AR: I feel sorry for him. I have a Christian vocation and I can not feel
any other way, because I think it is a product of 53 years of
indoctrination and decades of telling people that it is good to use
violence against those who express themselves freely. Some friends
brought me the address where the man lives and they said "we must take
action against him," but I do not think so. We would fall into the same
cycle of violence and revenge. I am against any violence.

YS: Some people claim that you shouted 'Down with Communism!' to get a
visa as a political refugee for the United States. Is that true? How do
you answer that question?

AR: That's not true. My main goal was, and so I told the State Security,
was a call to the conscience of the Cuban people. Let people see that
you can fight. Yet another objective was a call to the consciousness of
Raul Castro to recognize our rights. Today it was me, but tomorrow it
may be hundreds, thousands, or an entire people. I thought my screams
would be like an engine that would lead a lot of people who were in the
Plaza Antonio Maceo to do the same, but it didn't happen and I confess
that I was disappointed. I did not do it in order to seek political
asylum, but now I'm living with a harassment that is unsustainable. My
house is surrounded and they follow me wherever I go. For now they do
not dare do anything to me because many are watching my situation, but
sometimes I fear that in three or four months the worst will happen. I
am very concerned for my safety.

YS: Would you do it again?

AR: Yes, of course. I did it for my country, my people, and at that
moment I knew that this action could cost me my life. I even said
goodbye to my family without their knowledge. I said goodbye to my
mother, my sister, my wife … I told her that morning before leaving for
the Mass 'I love you very much.' I thought I wouldn't return, I thought
this would be the last day of my life.

Translated from original article in El Pais.

24 April 2012

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