"The scum is scared," a loudspeaker suddenly hollered. "The rats are in their caves. They won't come out."
Almost instantly, men and women appeared in the dark in front of the old Spanish-style home now splashed with black and red slogans saying, "Traitors" and "Worms live here."
Within minutes they had turned into a chanting, jeering crowd. It was another of those snap demonstrations that run like fire through Havana, and in the past two weeks they have turned the capital into a nonstop political event.
Inside the house, the middle-aged couple and their two teen-age sons closed the blinds, withdrew into the bedroom and turned on the shortwave radio to offset the hostility outside.
The neighbors said they had been stunned last month when this family jumped over the fence into the Peruvian Embassy, grabbing their chance to flee Cuba.
Armando, 48, had seemed an exemplary revolutionary. An army officer for the first 10 years under Fidel Castro, then a technician in a radio station, Armando had volunteered for eight sugar harvests. His wife Gloria, 44, was militant in the local block committee and in the women's movement. She helped clean the streets and collected empty bottles on weekends, while he did more night-watch duty than most others. Both their sons had gained awards for high moral conduct and excellence in school.
Now they are threatened, frightened and near despair. Three weeks have passed and no one has come to give them word that they may board a boat for Florida. The family knows several people with police records who have already gone, they say, even some who were not in the Peruvian Embassy where the family was promised the chance to leave. More than 20,000 people have left, meanwhile, via the port of Mariel.
"We decided we wanted to leave five years ago," said Armando. "Since then, we have lived a terrible double life." At night they would listen to shortwave radio broadcasts of the Voice of America and to Spanish-language stations in Florida. They developed a private, secret language with friends and relatives to talk about "going north."
Alluding to the noisy crowd outside the house, Armando said, "We live in a state of siege now, but at the same time we feel almost liberated because we have taken off our masks."
The family's complaints about life in Cuba sound much like those of other people interviewed.They are in no way politically persecuted, but they want to flee rom a system they feel hems them in. They are tired of shortages, they say, of depending on petty bureaucrats for every small decision that affects their lives, of rhetoric that promises equality but in reality means privileges for the ruling political class.
"Sure, things have improved," said Gloria, "but after 20 years of standing in line I feel I cannot stand it anymore."
"At my age I should be established," said Armando, "but I have nothing to offer to my children. I have no perspective as a person. Perspective belongs to the state. I feel absorbed by communism, like a vegetable without a voice."
They lived modestly on Armando's salary, roughly equivalent to $290 per month. There are no expenses for medicine or education. They spend $24 on rent, $15 on electricity, $7.50 on telephone service, $13 on gas and $15 on paying off their black-and-white television set.
The rest, according to Gloria, goes to food and clothing on the black market, where prices are higher but there is more variety.
The breaking point for the couple came a year ago when Rogerio, the oldest son, graduated with honors from high school and hoped to go to the university and become an agronomist.
Rogerio was drafted into the Army, then exempted on medical grounds. "It sounds unbelievable," said Gloria, "but then he was told he could not enter the university because he has to do his military service first."
Rogerio since then has been without a job and depressed. "It was our last straw," said Gloria.
The day the crowds went into the Peruvian Embassy, Armando went to check things out," then called a family meeting. Twenty-four family members, including his three sisters, five brothers and their children, jumped over the fence that night. One brother, a convinced communist, remained behind.
They stayed 11 days, in the "middle of fights, heat and stench. "For the first four days we lived on water only," said Gloria. "Every one of us got sick." Then they accepted the papers letting them wait at home for transport into exile.
All of them have passports and permits to leave except Gloria. She says she has lost 20 pounds and cannot sleep at night. The family has decided it will go without her if necessary.
Outside, the noise of the crowd had not stopped for an hour. At times Armando peeked through the blinds after turning off the lights indoors.
"I have lost my job. They have taken our ration book.We are now like prisoners," said Armando. "We have to leave Cuba. Time has stood still for us."