A couple of days ago I was walking with a friend to my daughter’s house and a cop car stopped us and asked for our IDs. Dog-faced like the usual Cuban police. They frisked us on the public street like common thieves. They wanted me to open an envelope with some magazines a Brazilian friend had sent me.
Accustomed to this, one sees it as something normal. If you are young, have a backpack, or are black, you have all the characteristics the cops look for to ask for your ID.
They check us out and call us into the central computer to see if we have records. We come back clean. But in my case I hear one of them say, “The subject has a high and worrying standard of living.”
The officer looked be over carefully, on good and dressed in cheap and sensible clothes. Maybe he thought he’d made a mistake. When he handed me back my documents I asked him what that term meant.
“It signifies people who live well but don’t work.” And is that a crime, I asked. “It’s against the rules of this society,” said the official sitting in the latest model Lada.
Before leaving I wanted to know: And what if the person receives money from abroad? What it they follow the same absurd laws despite the government’s call for self-employment and a million people who are going to become unemployed?
Now his face showed contempt. “And why do you want to know so much? Maybe because you are a lawyer and a journalist?” He put the car in gear without waiting for my answer.
In their control of the citizens, the agents of authority blatantly violate the rights established in existing laws. It so happens that neither the police or the ordinary people know what they are.
Ignorance with respect to Cuban laws is proverbial. It disturbs me that the police open a file on someone because they are able to maintain an acceptable standard of living without stealing or violating the laws.
According to the island’s owners, anyone who doesn’t work for the State and who eats lunch every day and who, on the weekend, spends time with their family, calls attention to themselves and needs to be watched and investigated.
The rigid police bureaucracy keeps their accounts. Those who work receive some 20 euros a month and with this salary they cannot afford these “luxuries.” According to the authorities, someone who works 8 hours cannot drink name brand beer, eat at good restaurants, fix their house or buy a plasma TV.
If you receive money from abroad, even if it is justified, but you’re not working for the State, you’re always on a knife’s edge. The suspicions of the police and some of the informants of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) fall on these people, whom they think of as possible suspects, for supposedly having a higher than average purchasing power.
Nobody on the island may have a high standard of living if it is not authorized by the regime. This causes many people to live surrounded by paranoia and phobias.
I know a friend, a ministry consultant, who advised me throw trash in bags of nylon that are not so transparent, so that neighborhood informants do not know if I use products purchased in foreign currency. He gave me a camouflage manual. Participate in activities of the CDR. Give soap to the snitches on your block. And never drink beer or eat at places near your home.
I refuse to live with that guilt complex. I’m a journalist and I make money with my work. My family lives in Switzerland and sacrifices sends me money.
Only in a closed and sick society like Cuba’s could it be dangerous to eat twice a day, take private taxis for ten pesos, and try to make sure your daughter lacks nothing.
So I’m living all wrong. The Russian TV I have in the living room broke years ago. If I have not thrown it out it’s because I use it as a place to put the books I’m reading. In the photo you can see that. Next to it, the old fan.
I aspire to live better. But above all I consider myself a free man. And that is where a person can be dangerous in Cuba. Precisely that question.
Since October 2009 Ivan has received money for his contributions to the on-line edition of El Mundo/América, most of which goes to the apartment where he has lived since 1979, which is in very bad repair. He need to fix it so that his wife and daughter can come to live with him (currently they both live in her mother’s house). He needs to fix the wiring and kitchen, and purchase materials to fix the bathroom. A lengthy and costly process, delayed now for several years, because in addition to the kitchen and the bathroom, the apartment has a living/dining room, three bedrooms, a hall and a terrace. After it’s all fixed and painted he will need to buy furniture, little-by-little, as poor people in Cuba do these things. The rest of what he earns goes to support his 7-year-old daughter; so that his mother-in-law, a cook, can buy food; for internet cards (every two hours costs 15 CUC and he needs an average of three to four a month because, as you can see, he is an independent journalist who writes from Havana), and to change 20 CUC for pesos to pay the rent, light, telephone, gas and water, and to be able to take a private taxi costs ten pesos. When I can I send money from Switzerland (I receive the minimum pension of a retiree and political refugee), which goes to help my granddaughters and my 90-year-old uncle. (Tania Quintero)
October 27, 2010