Day 41 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: The Empty Square

From my vantage point, I have seen one of my neighbors — the one who sells the fuel from his state vehicle on the black market — applaud with an excessive frenzy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 May 2020 — It was drizzling when dawn broke. On this morning of May 1st, the famous lucky downpour – something that people expect as a good thing as soon as the fifth month of the year begins – had not yet fallen. Nor was the traditional noise heard at dawn announcing the start of the massive arrival of people for the Workers’ Day parade. My neighborhood was silent and asleep.

For more than two decades, since I have lived in this concrete block near Rancho Boyeros Avenue, I have learned that from midnight on April 30 it is almost impossible to take in the line of buses bringing people from distant neighborhoods and provinces coming to fill the Plaza of the Revolution. On this date, the hullabaloo overwhelms everything.

But this year, with Covid-19 having already claimed 64 lives so far according to official figures published this Saturday, the parade was suspended. It is not a significant loss because the event is more about applauding power than a coming together to express some kind of demand from workers. In 2020, instead of the usual mass congregation, the national media have called on Cubans to applaud and commemorate the day of the proletariat from each house. My good luck is… I live on the 14th floor.

From my vantage point, I have watched one of my neighbors – like the one who sells the fuel for his state vehicle on the black market – applaud with an excessive frenzy. Washing the sins of illegality often entails a show of fervent support on these dates. I remember some friends who had a visa to emigrate to the United States and the day before they went to parade in the Plaza so as not to “get marked,” out of fear of being refused the right to leave.

Also, this morning I saw a red flag waving on the balcony of the same neighbor who yesterday complained about the very poor ‘module’ of four eggs, a little cornmeal and some noodles that he had been given for being over 65, in order to survive the pandemic. His wife, who spends all day speaking ill of the Party leaders, today even today launched a “Viva Díaz-Canel!” and beat out a sound with an old wooden rattle.

The group in power appropriated a date that was for all the workers. They censored the demands on the signs and erected billboards with slogans of support; they cut off the right to strike while promoting the obligation to applaud; they prohibited the existence of independent unions and turned the only union allowed into a direct pulley for the transmission of power.

After the screaming this morning, which lasted just a couple of minutes, life returned to the “normal” of confinement and the obsessive search for food. Unlike other years, this time the intense smell of urine from the public toilets placed along the nearby avenue did not reach us, nor did the echo of patriotic songs echo in the loudspeakers, as the parade-goers left at full speed.

“Onion!” an illegal vendor yelled at the bottom of the building. For this little merchant there was no holiday today. In the end, he is not facing a boss who takes a succulent surplus value from him, but a State for which the sale of agricultural products right now is a trench that it wants to fully dominate. After the proclamation, the neighbor who until a few minutes ago was shouting political slogans came down like a thunderbolt to buy a string, for which she paid a quarter of her monthly pension.

Then silence returned. I cut up some beets, made rice and looked towards the Plaza of the Revolution. That ugly tower that cuts the landscape in two can be seen from our balcony. Instead of an anxious crowd leaving the place, I saw only empty streets and a light rain drizzling down any vestige of false enthusiasm.


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