Published Monday, August 16, 1999, in the Miami Herald


It was magnificent! People shouted: `Give us liberty!'

Two jailers beat me. They knocked out one of my teeth. I passed out and came to in my cell. I was accused of rebellion, counterrevolution -- the whole nine yards.

Raul Rivero is an independent Cuban journalist whose writing is banned in Cuba.

On Aug. 5, 1994, when Michell Charanicharo Placeres was 17, he participated in the first massive, popular demonstration against the Cuban regime.

Protesters fought with pro-government special forces belonging to the so-called Contingent Blas Roca, a paramilitary group named after a late Communist Party founder.

Charanicharo Placeres was arrested and imprisoned and has been denied employment since his release. He raises chickens, which he buys from the government, and sells or barters them so that he and his wife can survive.

Here is his story, in his own words. His memories are shared by the thousands of young Cubans who took to the Havana streets on that fateful day in 1994:

Havana -- That day I met with a group of friends, and we went out as we normally would. This time, however, we went to the Castillo de la Punta area because we had heard of the disturbances there. We also had been told of the expected arrival of ships coming from Miami. Since I have always been in disagreement with the Castro regime, I decided to go along with my scarcely organized group.

We fought Blas Roca's people hand and foot, while some berated them as ``bullies,'' ``traitors,'' and ``faggots.'' Stones were thrown, and there were many blows all around. We shouted anti-government slogans and asked passers-by to join us. It was magnificent! People shouted: ``Give us liberty!'' When the situation got totally out of hand, we left.

That night, when we arrived at Paseo del Prado, it had been taken over by the police and the military. The paramilitaries had set up camps. Obviously, the regime's leaders had been shaken up.

We kept up our protest, shouting ``Down with Fidel!'' while government forces ran to and fro. We managed to throw some stones, but the government forces had near total control. I returned home and went to bed. The contusions all over my body hurt, but I was happy.

The next day my mother told me: ``You were on the television newscast last night.'' That afternoon I saw myself on TV. Wearing a striped black pullover and green pants, I could be seen throwing rocks. Neighbors said, ``You had better hide because they are going to come looking for you.''

I decided to stay at home. The footage of my activities continued to be shown on TV. On Aug. 13 the streets were in an uproar again. I was about to go out when the section chief and two policemen came to arrest me. They took me to the police station, where the man at the desk said: ``Here's the stone thrower.'' They kicked me, beat me and threw me in a cell.

Next day an interrogator pulled me from the cell, showed me photos and asked me the names of the others who had thrown stones. ``Since you are the police,'' I said, ``why don't you find out?''

The interrogator hit me a couple of times -- I was handcuffed. A major came into the room, and I told him that I had been hit. He appeared to reprimand the one who had hit me, but it was all in jest, one big joke.

They took me back to my cell, and the interrogator said to the jailer: ``Take care of this guy; he told the major that I beat him.'' Five minutes later the interrogator took me out to a narrow hallway between cells. Two jailers beat me. They knocked out one of my teeth. I passed out and came to in my cell. I was accused of rebellion, counterrevolution -- the whole nine yards. I spent 21 days in that jail.

After that, they took me to the Department of Technical Investigations and opened a file on me with pictures and fingerprints. ``We're going to screw you,'' the guards kept telling me. From there, they took me to Prison 1580.

The prison population was enormous and included others from the Aug. 5 protests. All of them were very young, perhaps my age.

I spent six months at Prison 1580 before they finally got around to trying me. The barbarians charged me with public disorder. I was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but my lawyer appealed, and the sentence was reduced to one year.

I was imprisoned for four more months and, because of the time I had served previously, was released. But I first had to spend time in a correctional prison, working without wages.

Since my release, it has been impossible for me to find work. I applied for a job at a cigar factory, but as soon as they read my police file, they refused to hire me.

It appears that images of me were judged as the most representative of the Aug. 5 protests. The press published them for the longest time. Apparently, this protest has but one lasting image, that of my throwing stones. This situation leaves me here in Havana, just waiting for another August.

©1999 Cuba Free Press

Copyright 1999 Miami Herald