A typical Cuban day is synonymous with a journey full of dangers. Not because of the gain or loss of a business, nor the ups or downs of market prices. Instead, because one must resort to illegal activities in order to survive.
The Cuban population tends to instantly consume whatever they get their hands on. For those who tend to be thrifty, one month’s salary could last them a week. As for the rest (which is the majority), between contracted debts, electricity, and the purchase of rickety subsidized food quotas, that salary is spent in less than 24 hours.
So then one is forced to live off of “inventions”– a word which in Cuba means “to live from whatever appears”. Or from whatever can be found daily, whether it be legal or illegal.
To live “the Cuban style” means to buy and resell absolutely anything, keeping in mind that such an action could be considered a crime of “reception of stolen goods”, speculation, or monopolization. It also means to turn to the black market, which always has a better stock than the state market and which always has more affordable prices.
It means to keep your eyes wide open because in each block there are eyes which are constantly watching, even though those eyes (which belong to the members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) are very well aware that no one can live off of the earned salaries.
The “watchers” tend to be suspicious of neighbors with higher economic income. They automatically think that such wealth comes from remittances sent by relatives abroad, or because they live off of “inventions”, or in other words, illegalities.
For the authorities, such a presumption is valid. The improvement or increase of quality in a citizen’s life is a sufficient cause to unleash a confiscation process against them under the pretext of “illicit enrichment”. In this case, the charge of the proof is inverted. It is the individual who must prove to the authorities that their assets do not stem from illegality.
Besides, Cubans have the duty of denouncing the events which transgress the law. The failure to fulfill such an obligation is listed in the Penal Code as a crime. It is all designed and arranged very well. In order to facilitate its job against illegalities, the government created a complex network of anonymous denunciations. Such denunciations are usually products of envy, personal grudges, or low levels of ethics.
The prosperity of one neighbor may worry or bother other neighbors who have accumulated years of frustration and find themselves in a stagnant kind of life. And the thing that pushes one to “snitch” could be something like an argument due to music being played very loud, a dispute among children, a disagreement over the limits of an adjacent property, or simply if someone does not like another person because they are rude and does not say hello to anyone.
In other instances, snitching is used to obtain impunity. People who think like that exist in every neighborhood, and their philosophy is something like this: “I engage in illegal business, so that’s why I take part in denunciations and snitching on what others do, so that I am allowed to continue my own illegal activities.”
It’s a very difficult and twisted concept to grasp, especially for foreigners. But it is something that has become normal in Cuba. In a matter of necessity, of survival. It’s one of the main sources which inform the authorities and it is known as “operative secret work”. For revolutionary justice, a denunciation is proof of irrefutable culpability.
There is one reality: daily life not only forces you to violate the law, but it also offers you some “paths” to take to lighten your own load. It doesn’t matter if it’s to achieve impunity, but it is a necessity to give out information about the lives of others.
In sum, “my stuff comes first” is the maximum slogan of national survival. It is essential for living “the Cuban way”.
Translated by Raul G.
January 7 2011