Monday, April 30, 2012

Andrés Carrión describes his anti-Castro shouts during papal visit in Cuba

Posted on Sunday, 04.29.12


Andrés Carrión describes his anti-Castro shouts during papal visit in Cuba

In an exclusive interview, the man who shouted anti-Castro-slogans
recalls the globally broadcast incident that occurred during the
pope's visit.

Andrés Carrión, the man who shouted "Freedom!" "Down with communism!"
and other anti-Castro slogans on March 26, shortly before the papal
Mass on Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba, remembers that
moment as if it had been the end of his life. His throat was dry. He
panted. He thought about his family.

"I was worried because I thought that, at the moment of truth, my
voice would fail and my shouts wouldn't come out," Carrión recalled in
a telephone interview with El Nuevo Herald. "But they did, and I know
that they caused the dictatorship much harm."

The incident occurred in an area near the platform where TV cameramen
and photographers stood. It was broadcast widely, throughout the
world. As he was removed violently from the square, Carrión was struck
by several government sympathizers. One member of the Cuban Red Cross
beat him savagely on the face and struck him on the head with a folded

"If I had an opportunity to find the stretcher bearer, I'd try to
explain to him that his intransigence only benefits the government,"
Carrión said. "The same government that keeps him working hard and
selling bleach on the streets."

Carrión thought that he wouldn't leave the square alive.

For days, Cuban authorities kept his identity secret, until it was
disclosed by Alfonso Chaviano Peláez and José Daniel Ferrer García,
members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU). Chaviano said in a
phone interview with El Nuevo Herald that he had recognized Carrión
but that he was unable to report it immediately because he lacked a
means of communication and his home was under close surveillance.

"Not long ago, I was able to see some videos of the protest and the
great pounding they were giving me," Carrión said. "But in the midst
of that situation, your adrenaline and state of mind are altered and
you don't realize it. The only thing I felt was that my soul was
separated from my body."

Carrión said that the idea to stage a protest began when he heard that
Pope Benedict XVI would visit Santiago de Cuba. One week after the
papal Mass, he toured the square repeatedly. He even selected the best
location for his protest.

That day, Carrión was among the first to arrive. He took 10 candies
and a bottle of cold water. The wait was long and exhausting. He
arrived at 11 a.m. The Mass was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. One hour
before evading the police cordon and shouting his slogans, a Colombian
journalist approached him and asked him what he thought about the
Cuban government.

Carrión did not reply.

"I looked at him and said to myself, 'stick around and you'll find out
what Cubans think,' " he recalled.

On the evening of March 26, the authorities took him to the Versailles
Operation Center of State Security, in Santiago de Cuba. For at least
two weeks, he remained in a cell, alone, without knowing if his
protest had reached the outside world.

"The only satisfaction I felt was that I had done something in the
name of all the Cubans who remain silent out of fear," Carrión said.
"Now I'm fully aware that the regime will never forgive me for what I
did. That's why I think they're waiting for the right moment to give
me a final blow."

Carrión's situation provoked innumerable expressions of concern. Human
rights activists and peaceful oppositionists in Cuba and abroad
demanded his immediate release from prison. Carrión was freed one week
ago, although he's under obligation to meet a series of conditions.
The authorities have ordered him to appear every Wednesday at the
Versailles center. They've told him not to have contact with foreign

The government also has taken additional steps in his neighborhood,
Carrión says. An Interior Minister officer, a captain by the name of
Figueroa, told the residents of the Sorribes housing complex where he
lives that they may lynch or stone anyone who demonstrates against the

"State Security checks on me constantly and I'm the target of
provocations," Carrión said. "The people are afraid but express their
support to me covertly. On the street, they tell me, 'thanks from
those of us who didn't have the guts to do what you did.' That
comforts me."

Currently unemployed, Carrión has a diploma in social and occupational
rehabilitation. His wife is a physician. They have no children.

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