A Civic Gesture

21 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

With seventy-five years on his back Leslie Chan never imagined he would take his bones to a police station. Barely a week ago he was sitting on a public bench waiting for some friends to have a little chat as he does every morning since he’s been retired, but a police officer interrupted the day.

The cops told him to thew were going to search the home of a family living very near to where the septuagenarian were seated and they needed his presence as a witness. He told me they approached him without any preamble and he refused outright. “I don’t want to,” he told the police firmly, and added, “I am not a snitch.”

When they clarified it and explained to him that it was his “civic duty” he repeated what he said and added that he’s retired, he suffers from high blood pressure, and added other excuses for what he would consider being an “accomplice” to the search. The police asked for his identity card and spit out that he could look for it at the town police station.

I am a witness to the fact that for four days he went, helped by his sister, also in her seventies, to the police station to look for his ID card. Every time the clerk explained that it was true he had a right to claim it, and even the head of the military post told him that when the uniformed officer returned he would be reprimanded.

Still unknown is if there was actually a fine but he’s sure of what he knows very well and that is according to the Cuban penal code no one is obliged to attend a home search as a witness unless it is “a question of life and death.” And in this case it was just about “looking for some bills in Cuban convertible pesos” in the house of dealer so that requirement does not apply to this seventy-five year old.

Leslie flatly refused, like Rosa Parks he clung to the truth. As she did, grabbing onto the bars of her bus seat, Chan refused to cooperate with an absurd policy. It is a gesture, a small action like those that set off any social revolution.

“They returned the card to me after four days,” he told me, “but they now know they can never count on me.”

February 21, 2011

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