Iván García, 18 January 2019 — He always believed in God or in some deity from the Afro-Cuban list of saints. He never read Marxist literature nor did he like the soporific war films of the disappeared USSR. Germán, 51, is who he is. A midlevel official of the Ministry of Internal Trade with a communist party card that has made money and carved out a privileged status, looting with more or less pretense the state warehouses of provisions.
He’s the owner of a 1958 Chevrolet, updated and impeccable to the detail. He’s a fan of Made in USA products, from an iPhone to Guess jeans. Through El Paquete [The (Weekly) Packet] he follows American television series and Major League Baseball. With religious punctuality, every day he plays 200 pesos in the illegal lottery known as el bolita [little ball]. He drinks more alcohol than is recommended. He has two lovers and he likes to visit with his buddies in a rented house at the beach, where they don’t lack for fried pork and young women.
In the two decades that he has been an official (manager) he has learned to have his cake and eat it too. The complicated system has allowed him to have a comfortable house with air conditioning and he never lacks food. He doesn’t get his quality of life by means of his salary. No. He maintains it profiteering and operating like a financial expert he covers it up with accounting tricks.
Cubans, experts in rearranging the Spanish language to their taste, use different metaphors to camouflage a word as cutting as “stealing”: striving, inventing, being in the “tíbiri tábara* “…Over and over, when the tide rises and the olive green regime begins to audit the state’s businesses, Germán goes into hibernation mode.
The nets of corruption that have been woven in six decades of Castroism are vast, functional, and methodical. Germán himself says that “in the barters between companions money never plays a part. For example, I get ahold of a leg of pork and three cases of beer for an official from the municipal party and, in exchange, when I need it, the guy arranges a house on the beach for me or supports me for a promotion within Internal Trade.”
That dissipated existence has an inviolable point: “When the Party or the Revolution needs you, one has to take a step forward.” That means you must participate in the marches called by the government, vote in favor of whatever electoral fakery, shout insults at whoever, whether dissident or not, tries to bring about a change in the country. The profile of Germán is repeated on the Island with different stories and strategies.
These imperturbable bureaucrats, who may add up to one or two million people, move within all of the institutions of the State. In return for silence, convenience, or simple opportunism, as if they were a cancer, they metastasize in the economic, social, and political structures of Cuban society. They aren’t ministers or high-ranking leaders. They’re the screws and pawns that allow the system to function. Like parrots they repeat the slogans of the moment and make up a caste that supports the leaders and back the national economic disaster.
From that singular class, similar to that of other totalitarian systems, the black market stays supplied and gasoline flows for private transport. In return, loyalty to Fidel, Raúl, and irrevocable socialism.
Thanks to them, the regime is assured of some 20% of the votes for support of its cause. The managers of the system represent another similar figure: ministers, advisors, officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), leaders and officials of the first level and their family members, who detest democracy because they would have to be transparent, account for themselves, and wouldn’t be able to unlawfully hold power indefinitely.
Another class are the indifferent, people who justify their apparent support for the government with endless sophistry. “At the polling places there are cameras that capture the vote of each person. If I don’t go to vote I stand out at my workplace and if I vote No, I can cause problems for my son who studies at university,” they say. In general, they are men and women who work in hotels and companies with foreign capital.
And there are the revolutionaries, although far fewer than before. Cubans who continue believing in the Revolution and are going to vote Yes in the February 24 referendum. They are the so-called “comecandelas**,” Cubans between 60 and 80 years old who don’t need favors in exchange for loyalty. They live badly, eat worse, and their homes are threatening to fall down. They’re already in extinction, like the duck-billed platypus, but for those who remain, their neighbors brand them as crazy, sclerotic, old grouches.
Almost all of them are heartfelt communists and have read Lenin and Marx. They were or still are militiamen and some fought at Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs), Ethiopia, Angola. It’s difficult for them to believe that now they are useful fools. When you show them photos of the children and grandchildren of the main leaders, eating seafood, sailing on yachts, vacationing in Europe, and dressed in brand name accessories from the “imperialist enemy,” they affirm that it’s part of a CIA conspiracy.
It’s these, essentially, who for one reason or another maintain the olive green autocracy. Excepting the high civil and military posts and a small sector of bullet-proof Castrists, the majority of the population applauds the official narrative without questioning anything. For 60 years, the survival instinct has forced them to pretend.
It’s those people whom Cuba’s opposition has to convince if we want to take the first steps on the path to democracy.
*A Cuban expression that appears to have many dueling meanings (and so is not translated here!).
**Literally “fire-eating,” or in English “fire-breathing” a word that conveys a total revolutionary commitment.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey