Complicit Silence in Today’s Cuba

 

By Jesus Arencibia  (El Toque)

Photo: Osmel Betancourt.

HAVANA TIMES – It happened outside a store in Artemisa, where the opening hours sign announced that it opens at 8:30 AM. At 8:40, workers were still calmly gathered together inside while about 15 of us customers were up against the glass windows.

What nerve we said to each other. “People don’t have any respect anymore,” an old woman on crutches grumbled. “If they were paid to give good customer service, I’m sure this wouldn’t happen,” a young man with blonde dyed hair said in agreement.

I knocked on the clear glass, quite annoyed. Several employees turned around. They looked as if to excuse their insolence and continued on with their meeting. Five minutes later, I did it again, quite angrily this time. An employee, who had been sent by what appeared to be the Manager, came out disturbed to put me in my place:

“Look here, comrade, can’t you see we’re having a meeting?”

“And can’t you see that it’s already 15 minutes past the time you were meant to open, according to your own opening hours sign?”

“Yes, but today is Friday and we have our “morning meeting”. It’s clear you aren’t from around here…”

“Well, you should have also announced the morning meeting on the door. And if you look for a minute, you’ll see that there are lots of people waiting here, including a lady on crutches…”

“Yes, yes, we’ll be opening up soon.” (And he abruptly shut the door).

In the meantime, none of the other bothered people who were also interested in the store opening spoke a single word during that coarse exchange of ours. When the employee left, the remarks started up again.

They finally opened up shop at 9 AM. I didn’t say anything else either.

***

It happened in a ‘50s Chevrolet, these bizarre collective taxis which, even with their beat-up structure (a hybrid of pieces and inventions over 6 decades), are Havana’s surest form of transport.

The lady, a professional and loving person, was carrying her baby in her arms. The driver, with a shaved head, rude manner, extended belly and a thick chain around his neck, had rude reggaeton (while it may appear redundant) on full blast as the only soundtrack for the journey over so many kilometers.

“Could you turn the music down a little? It can upset the child…” she asked.

“Whaaaaat???”

“Could you please turn down the music, for the baby…” she almost shouted.

A string of insults immediately came booming. That this was his car, that if she wanted a more comfortable journey she should rent out a tourist taxi, that he had already seen her attitude of miss intellectual a mile away, and that grrrr…

The other passengers kept quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pay and get out of the taxi even though she was traveling a long way.

***

It happened at an assembly, the kind where boredom is the first thing on the agenda. On the list of things that needed to be discussed, the most “heated” topic, which had been skillfully disguised among other trifles, was that the only vacation home the institution had on the beach, which many employees could spend their holidays at throughout the year, on a rotation basis, no longer belonged to them. Due to decisions “from above” (which in Cuba normally means from the synonymous Party/Government/State), the property was now being proposed for use by other institutions and other people.

Young, irreverent, without any commitments to anyone really, they raised their hand and protested. They even dared to do more: if all of us workers come together, we plant our flag and we make things ugly, they can’t take the house away from us… they instigated.

The comrade, sent from “above” to oversee the meeting, calmly smiled and explained how complex the issue was, the objective and subjective factors at play, the country’s fragile state and that of course she would raise their concerns, and if not, solutions would be found because workers, of course, are first in this country.

Another colleague, from the same institution, quickly interjected and commented that these young people’s methods weren’t at all appropriate, that there were channels and levels and frameworks and processes to go through. What cheek…

The others in that heated room didn’t open their mouths.

When leaving, the woman from above rubbed her hand through one of the rebel’s hair: “So strikes… no? Young ones… They’re just like my son”…

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