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The Military Police

By: Lurker

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The Military Police

This took place in 1990, just after the special period had started, but before the stores ran out of everything. Danelkis was 17 and her little sister Dalia was 15. They lived in what is now called the new La Alcarraza, even though the new La Alcarraza is older than the old La Alcarraza. The new La Alcarraza got it's name from the newer secondary school that was built back in the 80's, whereas the secondary school in the other, newer La Alcarraza was built way back in the sixties. It's actually a little more complicated, because the new secondary school has now fallen to pieces, and the older school is still in active use- but still, the place where the fallen down school used to be new is now called the new La Alcarraza, in case you are ever looking for somebody in one of these nearby settlements with the same name.

The so called new La Alcarraza is all spread out, lots of little homes built on the sides of the mountains where the coffee is grown in the Sierras, in the Province of Holguin, not too far from Moa, in the Municipio de Sagua de Tanamo. There are still quite a few relatively large landowners, although most of their land was taken away and given over to the State in the various land reforms. In between the coffee plantations are broad swatches of forest, that used to belong to somebody, but are mostly abandoned these days, except for the thin, strong men who go out with their machetes to gather cooking fuel.. Little kids, often the descendents of the owners of these forests, have always felt free to roam around and pick the fruit from the trees that were planted by their ancestors, or maybe, more poetically, the descendents of the owners are picking fruit from the descendents of the trees that were planted by the ancestors of these little kids. Anyway, there are mangos and anons and bananas and zapotes all throughout these forests, and there are also lots of fruit trees planted to provide shade to the coffee bushes in those parts of the mountains that have been dedicated to coffee ever since the Gallegos and the Islenos from the Canaries came over to Cuba in the twenties looking for economic opportunity in the new world.

These guajiro children had a wonderful childhood, for the most part, wandering around these forests, jumping on the back of any horse or mule that was also wandering around, or collecting crayfish or river shrimp by the hundreds, or climbing trees to catch baby parrots that they could keep in home made cages, free as any children anywhere, and perfectly safe, because everyone in Cuba loves children, and will do anything to protect them.

Sometime back in the late 1980's, much of the land owned by the State was turned over to the military, which built barracks for the Ejercito de Jovenes Trabajadores, the Army of Young Workers, which was created as an alternative to the regular army of military soldiers. The job of this worker army varied throughout the country, but in the Sierras the main military duty was to transplant coffee, and hoe the coffee, and weed the coffee, and pick the coffee- coffee is a full time time, labor intensive crop, and all the 18 year old boys in this region were assigned to two years active duty in the coffee brigades. Girls were not required but were allowed to enlist in the EJT, but the Sierra girls who did enlist were sent to other parts of the island, because coffee involves lots of back breaking work. Young men who wanted to become airplane pilots or train for national self defense were mostly out of luck, because almost all the guajiro boys from this coffee region were assigned to the coffee corps, although they did receive a little self defense training on the side. The lucky kids who happened to live near the barracks were allowed to live at home with their families, but the boys that were from further away, or from a monte adentro, as they say, one of the mountains inside of the mountains that were along the roads, had to live in the barracks 25 days every month, until the next 5 day pass came around. These 18 and 19 year old cadets are the unsung heroes of the economy of the Sierras,

Danelkis and Dalia were walking back to their La Alcarraza on the main jeep road after swimming in one of the swimming places during one of the school vacations when they ran into their neighbor Tony, the son of the chief of police, who was about 20. Tony was leading his horse, which the girls had ridden all over the place many times, and Dalia had the idea that the the three of them (four, if you include the horse) should take one of the trails that lead through the mountains, instead of walking along the main road. There is an old Cuban admonition against leaving the main road for the little trail, but these girls weren't sufficiently appreciative of the wisdom of these proverbs, and that is why they got into trouble.

They were walking through the land owned by the military, gathering a little fruit along the way. First, they came across a mapen tree, in one of the coffee plantations owned by the military (in some parts of Cuba this tree is called guapen and not mapen). This tree looks like a breadfruit tree, and produces hundreds of round fruits that are about the size of giant grapefruit, except they are starchy, not citric. You have to cut off the outside part that includes the smooth, green, peel, and throw away the seeds and pulp in the center which is sort of like the inside of a buttercup squash, but the main body of the fruit can be boiled or fried and it tastes a little like yuca, or malanga. Tony took out his machete, cut down a small tree, and used it as a pole to knock down lots of these mapen fruit, which he then packed away in the small, saddle bag made out of the reeds that grow near the wetlands. The girls had only one small backpack between the two of them, so they only took two of these mapen. After they left the coffee area, and entered the wild forest area, they came across a toledo mango tree, which produces small but very sweet mangos, and lots of these ripe mangos were lying on the ground. They gathered up the best looking mangos, and ate quite a few each, because these mangos are not much bigger than plums.Even the horse was given lots of mangos, because Cuban horses like mangos as much as American horses like apples, and they know how to eat the mangos without swallowing the large, stringy pits. But out of kindness, Dalia and Danelkis cut away pieces of mango which Tony's horse ate out of their hands. When everyone had eaten enough mango, the girls filled up the rest of the knapsack with 6 more little mangos, thinking they would give them to their younger sister Dayelina. Tony could fit about 10 mapen, and about 25 mangos in the horse's saddle bag. Then they all continued along the trail back to where it joins the main jeep road.

A few minutes later they ran into one of the military police whose job it is to guard the area from saboteurs and other trouble makers. Everybody knew this young military policeman, only a few years older than Danelkis, whose name was Guillermo, and nobody liked him, because he was the kind of guy that is always looking for trouble

"Where are you coming from" asked Guillermo. Let me point out here that Guillermo was the grandson of one of the Islenos that used to be the owner of one of the large coffee plantations, just like Dalia and Danelkis, whose grandfather was also a coffee plantation owner from the very same Canary island.. But that didn't count for anything with Guillermo, who didn't show any of the normal social ettiquete of people who have been through so much together. That's one of the reasons why Guillermo, who was only a low level military police guard, was really hated, more than the much more powerful red beret military police whose job was to find coffee corps deserters and administer summary punishment- usually a beating, but sometimes, a beating followed by military prison. These red berets were direct descendents of Che, both in revolutionary zeal and in their uniform. It is a privilege to wear the red beret, and possibly Guillermo was trying to prove that he was worthy of this privilege, or even the higher privilege of wearing the black beret of the so called wasp unit of the special military police. Or maybe he was just one of those misfit military cops that you can find on any military base.

"We're coming from the river" said Danelkis, who about this time was probably passing through the most rebellious part of her entire life, after a very obedient and quiet childhood.. Her rebellion was pretty much limited to trying to imitate the look of an American rockera- she had dyed her hair yellow with peroxide, and then had made it frizzy with a home remedy made of sweet oranges and a Cuban laxative medicine by the name of laxagar. She also had cut her long pants diagonally in a few places and sewed them back together again in what these young people in Cuba thought would be the rock and roll style.

"Were you in the military zone?" Guillermo wanted to know.

"No" said Danelkis, lying. "We've been walking down the road" Technically the road is also part of the military zone, because this whole area has been turned over to the young army workers, but everyone knew that Guillermo's job was to guard the military coffee plantation and not the highway.

Danelkis then took it into her head to start humming the melody of a sort of a protest song written by the Italian songwriter Eros Ramazote, who sang in Italian, English, and Spanish. All the Sierra teenagers were singing this song that year, and Danelkis even had a little picture of Ramazote on a chain that hung around her neck.

Dalia was also rebellious, but in a much more direct way. Whereas Danelkis was more likely to be passively and politely rebellious, Dalia was more aggressive. So while Danelkis was just humming the melody of this protest anthem, Dalia started to sing the words out loud. The song called, "Somos de Hoy", could be translated as follows:

We are from today,
And we are different.
I don't know what I am,
but I know we're from today
I don't want to work just to survive
I don't want to be uncomfortable and I don't want to lie.
The people have fogotten that just to relax
Is to be from today.

Just like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground somehow managed to subvert the minds of so many young people of Czechoslovakia without even knowing about it, this Ramazote was undemining the natural order and discipline in the most monte adentro parts of Cuba, although he had never been there and probably had no idea that the adolescents were rallying around him.

I don't know if Guillermo understood that these words were directed against him and everything that he represented, or if he just objected to the fact that these girls were humming and singing when they should have been listening to him. But he definitely felt that he was being insulted. That's just how it is with these misfit military police.

"Shut up" he ordered, and then he said to Dalia, "If you don't pay attention and answer my questions I'm going to take all three of you to Gran Tierra", which was the main military police station a few miles down the road.

"I'm not going anywhere" said Dalia. "If you like that, fine, and if you don't like it, it's the same with me. Go f**k yourself, and f**k your whore mother twice, shit eater"

Lots of Cubans talk that way, even 5 year old kids, especialy out in the mountains where everybody knows everybody and nobody particularly respects anybody's uniform, because they know the guy's mother, and his grandmother, and they can remember when he was just a kid before he had any uniform. But Dalia, who was an adolescent and not a 5 year old, should have known better. Although there are always some adolescents who really are looking for trouble, just like there are always military police who are looking for trouble, and sometimes, they find each other. And Guillermo really took this the wrong way. He was so furious that he actually picked up his rifle, pointed it at Dalia, and ordered, "shut your mouth". Maybe the rifle wasn't loaded.

But instead of frightening Dalia, this just made her much more brazen. She is the kind of poker player who believes that if you raise the stakes high enough and quick enough, most people just fold.

"Is that how you're going to make me shut me, with your rifle?" she taunted "Now you're going to shoot a little girl?"

You really don't want to play poker with this girl, because she is always ready to bet her life on the most trivial turn of events. But I have learned that this technique, although radical, is almost always effective. Danelkis might have started to cry, since her job as the older sister was to do whatever was necesarry to protect her baby sister, but she didn't have time to even tear up, because Guillermo realized that he was being ridiculous, and he immediately put his gun back down by his side. But he was still angry.

"Gran Tierra" he said. "All of you."

Tony and the horse had been quiet all this time, but now Tony decided to become a snitch. His father was the police chief, so he probably had seen with his own eyes that these snitches get away with everything.

"These girls were walking through the military base" he admitted. "They were stealing fruit from the coffee plantation. Not me. I met them here on the road" That's what he said, even though he had much more military fruit than anyone else.

But even though these guajiros often say things that are easily disproven, they seem to know what they are doing. Tony was bluffing, in his way, just like Dalia, and he got away with his bluff just like she did. Guillermo told him that he could take his horse back home. Probably Guillermo didn't even care if anyone was walking through the military land-all the local people walked through it any time they wanted. Most likely, he just wanted to punish Dalia for insulting him.

On the walk over to the military police station, Dalia was sullen, but she didn't say anything to Guillermo, or taunt him in any way. She knew that even though Guillermo was probably not going to execute her, her mother Hortensia was almost certain to give her another beating, and although she wasn't really afraid of a beating, she knew that she would only be making things worse by talking back to Guillermo. Danelkis was also afraid that she would be beaten for allowing Dalia to leave the main road and walk through the military land with Tony. Somehow, it always seemed to work out that Dalia convinced Danelkis to do something that got them both beaten, although Danelkis was usually punished less severely than Dalia, because she accepted the beatings she received more graciously.

So the three of them walked about half an hour to the military administrative building, and each of them was probably feeling guilty- Guillermo for pointing his rifle at a schoolgirl, Danelkis for letting Dalia get her in trouble again, and Dalia for telling the military police to f**k himself and his mother. Dalia doesn't like to admit that she has done something wrong, but she does come to realize that she has gotten herself in t rouble when she gives herself time to think everything over. But even though Guillermo and Dalia were probably feeling especially guilty (Danelkis hadn't really done much of anything wrong, although that in itself would not mitigate the beating), they were both proud enough that they could not find a way to escape whatever was going to happen over at the administrative building. Probably if Dalia had simply apologized, Guillermo would have told her to run away home. Which Guillermo could have done anyway, even if Dalia didn't apologize. But their mutual pridefullness got in the way.

The captain in charge of the administrativie building was a mulato claro from Bayamo. Guillermo told Dalia and Danelkis to walk inside first, and then he started to explain that the girls had been trespassing through the military area and that he had a reliable witness who had reported them for stealing fruit. He explained that he only decided to take them in because he had received a denunciation, and he thought that it would be best to let the captain decide if they should be punished, or only warned.

This captain then asked the girls if it was true that they had been stealing fruit. And this time, they decided to tell the truth, because lying had gotten them nowhere, and because the evidence was inside their backpack, and because taking fruit from the military area was something that both children and adults did every single day.

"Yes sir" said Danelkis. "Except we didn't steal any fruit. We took some mangos that had fallen on the ground. And we took two mapen that Tony knocked out of a tree. Tony, the son of the police chief"

The captain ordered Danelkis to open up her knapsack. She took out the 6 little mangos, and the two mapen, and put them on the captain's desk.

The captain looked over at Guillermo, and then he asked, "This is the reason that you brought these girls over here?"

And Guillermo said "They were formally denounced by Tony. I decided that you should tell them not to steal any more fruit". He didn't bring up any of the things that Dalia had said, most likely because he didn't want to have to explain that he had pointed his gun at her. Dalia didn't want to bring up the gun, because she knew that if her mother ever heard that she had insulted the police enough to have a gun pointed at her, she would receive the worst beating of her life. So the accused and the accuser entered into a conspiracy of silence.

The captain stared at Guillermo for a moment, and then he asked him, in front of everyone in the administrative building who was listening in- "You're not ashamed of yourself? Don't you have any shame at all? You're trying to report schoolgirls for picking up fruit that was rotting on the ground? Do you have any idea of what your duties and responsibilites are?"

Guillermo understood that he was in trouble, even without the gun incident.

"Yes sir" he told the captain. "I won't do it again"

The captain then told Danelkis and Dalia that even if Guillermo was not ashamed, he himself was personally ashamed for what the military police had done. On behalf of the entire Army of the Young Workers, he wanted to apologize to the two girls. He himself put the fruit back into Danelkis' backpack, and told the girls that they and all their friends could take all the fruit that was lying on the ground. But in the future, they should not knock any fruit out of any trees, because only little children did things like that, and Dalia and Danelkis were old enough to respect the property that didn't belong to them. But he told them that on this occasion, they could also take the mapen, because they were not responsible for knocking them out of the tree. He then ordered his driver to take the girls home in his military jeep.

Surprisingly, no one was beaten over this military fruit incident, probably because no one ever mentioned anything about the pointed rifle. I'm not sure if it was ever discovered that Guillermo pointed a gun at a young rebel girl, but in any event he was stripped of his rifle and given a new job as an unarmed night watchman at the coffee warehouse. Years later, at the height of the special period, when everyone was really struggling just to survive, and Dalia and Danelkis were often sent out by their mother Hortensia to look for crayfish just so the family could have something to eat, Guillermo was fined for stealing coffee. This all goes to show that the authorities were right about him all along, and that he never deserved to even aspire to the red beret. They didn't put Guillermo in jail or anything, but he left the area and the girls don't really know what happened to him.

Tony stayed in La Alcarraza for a few years and became a policeman himself. These days he is one of the Oriente police that is now working in Havana. He always comes back to La Alcarraza for the new year, because his whole family now lives in one of the new cement and fiberglass houses in what is now called the old La Alcarraza. But the two sisters say that he is one of the good policeman who doesn't care if anyone is selling cooking oil illegally. Somewhere along the way, he decided that being a snitch wasn't worth it. He doesn't even care if Cuban girls sit in the park near the Capitolio, talking to tourists. He's happy to earn much more money than most people in Cuba, and he's happy with the $20 dollars worth of soap and deoderant and food from the dollar stores that they give him every month. And these days, he sleeps pretty well, because for the most part, he has a clear concience.

 

 

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