HAVANA TIMES — There are times, places and situations in Cuba that allow us to truly understand that the much-applauded transformations underway here are no more than crumbs.
They’re merely the application of a little oil and the tightening of a few nuts in the machinery, all designed to perpetuate the inertia while achieving nothing to address the island’s social stagnation.
We now have the right to buy a car or a house. But really, how many people can even dream of affording such things?
Last Sunday I was taking the Havana ferry to return to the waterfront neighborhood of Regla at about 9:00 pm.
Sunday nights are the worst time for waiting on a bus in Havana. However the ferry is the most efficient mode of public transportation in the city. They disembark every 15 to 30 minutes, with the trip across the bay lasting no more than five minutes, and the fare is only 10 cents of a regular peso. (about a half of a cent USD).
Having already crossed most of Old Havana, my husband and I got to the ferryboat terminal hoping to avoid the more than one hour wait for the bus or paying the 20 pesos per person charged by the jitney taxis.
Unfortunately, at night the boat (without the usual peanut or pastry vendors or students screeching the latest reggaeton hit) turns into something much like a police station, but with dimmer lights.
Two police officers are stationed at the entrance, two on the boat itself, and armed guards check everyone’s bags.
As Eddy and I opened our backpacks, we recalled we’d brought along our laptop – and realized this wasn’t the best place to have it.
The shock hit us when we thought back to the three young guys who were executed by firing squad a decade ago for hijacking the ferryboat and kidnapping the passengers and crew in an attempt to get the United States. This situation wasn’t an echo of 2003 but a cry that raises suspicion against anyone carrying anything – from a slice of pie to a DVD.
The Regla ferryboat incident is also a reminder that the death penalty is embedded in our laws, without our president needing to comment on it at a recent regional summit.
We closed our bags and explained our mistake (for fear of breaking the laptop, we almost never carry it along).
We tried to ease away as soon as possible, but this wasn’t so easy.
They carded us and began their questioning, which quickly turned into a nuanced discussion.
I’m never pleased to be asked for my ID for no good reason, but this time the reasons were absurd: We had created an “incident,” therefore we also had to leave our ID numbers.
What’s an “incident”? That’s something they never told us, no matter how much we asked.
We only got the two policemen to repeat — like machines — that it was required to show IDs, and for the guard to tell us that if we had a problem with it we could file a complaint (adding that she couldn’t care less).
In short, this all made us ask whether the landscape of the island has actually changed if the long-awaited immigration reform hasn’t prevented people from being treated like criminals or illegal immigrants for only needing a boat ride.
What now justifies our ID numbers ending up on some list that we don’t know how will be used?
Perhaps the answer is that Cuba today isn’t much different from 1999, when hijacking the Regla ferry almost became a sport.
Some things remain unchanged: low wages, the dual currency, the inability to buy a plane ticket or get a visa, the lack of autonomy, and especially difficult to imagine a future of personal development within the country.
More than 35,000 Cubans emigrate annually – a fact that speaks for itself.