A Leader Of Civil Society, A Real Story Without A Moral / Reinaldo Escobar

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2015 — On a cold November morning in the late eighties, some two hundred of us were trying to come to an agreement to organize a line to buy interprovincial bus tickets at an agency in Havana’s Playa municipality. As usually happens in these cases, the line had two heads, both justifying themselves with loud protestations of their indisputable evidence of having arrived first.

The vast majority of those gathered there were trying to spend Christmas in some province. For inexplicable reasons, two parallel lists had been drawn up, both established at different times. At that time – and to some extent still – the police prohibited these lists, so it wasn’t possible to appeal to the police authority to establish some order in such a confusing situation.

At six in the morning, two hours from when ticket sales would commence, an angry Hercules type said that if there was no agreement he would be the first to buy a ticket, and he looked around to see if anyone disagreed. From the shadows, a man in his forties made a call for sanity. He was not of robust build and barely five feet tall, but he had a strong voice and seemed to be supported by the conviction that reason, well exposed, always has a chance of prevailing.

Doing his best to hide his obvious nervousness, he yelled as loud as he could, “Pay attention, please!” and calling on some hidden courage to invest himself with some authority, he invited both lines to stand one beside the other. Once that was achieved, he offered the magic formula. “What we have to do here is interweave ourselves.”

His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

The solution meant that everyone was further back in the line from where they considered themselves, such that if you were number 10 in one of the lines, now you were number 20. With unusual precision, the spontaneous organizer drew up and handed out numbers* on paper with his signature. Amid protests and agreements, acceptances and rejections of all kinds, the long line was happily established.

I got my ticket to Camagüey, Hercules was at the end and I never knew what became of him. The serene promoter of harmony was two places ahead of me, but he didn’t manage to get tickets to Santiago de Cuba. The natural authority he had displayed had not resulted in his personal gain, just assured him a place in line. His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

*Translator’s note: Lines in Cuba generally form by each person asking, as they arrive, “who’s last” and then noting who they are behind. In this way, people don’t actually have to stand in their place in line for what can be hours and hours of waiting.