The “Forbidden” and the “Mandatory” / Miriam Celaya

Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013