Days 27 to 30 of the Covid-19 Crisis in Cuba: Silencing the Critics with Fines

The fines for publishing criticisms on social networks or questioning the government’s management of the crisis have been swift. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 April 2020 – The days now are defined by lines and heat. The temperatures stop any breezes from blowing on our 14th floor, midday feels like an oven, and the fans have to work much harder than normal for April. But the lines to buy food are the worst because, in addition to suffering the heat while waiting, there is the danger of contracting Covid-19.

Three days ago “liberated-rationed” chicken arrived at the butcher shop on the ground floor of my building, one of those numerous euphemisms in the official language that is translated to mean until recently it was a product that could be bought without restrictions at the shoppings*, but it is now offered through the rationing system, at the price of 20 Cuban pesos (CUP) per pound.

Although the price equals the daily salary of a professional, there is a very long line to buy. After three days waiting for the line to settle down, Sunday arrived and we still haven’t been able to buy some. However, we did manage to get two pounds of peanuts that I will roast and they will be very helpful for the next few days.

I have a special affection for peanuts. In addition to being a food that is tasty, versatile and very beneficial for health, Cubans owe a lot to this legume, especially during the tough years of the crisis of the 90s. Rebaptized “Cuban gum” for its popularity, it has accompanied us for decades on long walks, schools in the countryside, and afternoons after returning home.

A starring product of the black market, peanuts managed to survive the nationalization that was imposed in Cuba after the infamous Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, in which even the shoeshine boxes were nationalized. The little paper cone with salty nuts, or sugary nougat or the subsequent recipe for pralines helped me to ease burning hunger pangs many times during my childhood and adolescence.

So when Reinaldo showed up with two pounds of peanuts that he managed to buy this Saturday in the nearby Youth Labor Army market on Tulipán Street, I had to smile and I thought, “Here comes San Peanut again, to save us.” After we roast it, we will use it for breakfast and perhaps add it to some salads as well, or, if luck smiles on me and I also find basil, I will make pesto.

With this, I am no longer going to risk the line for the chicken, which I tried to take a photo of a couple of days ago, but a man appeared saying that it was prohibited and that he would call the police. Along with the Covid-19, which as of yesterday had claimed 34 lives in Cuba — according to official data — another victim of this pandemic has been the little freedom of expression that we had managed to conquer by force of exercising it.

The Powers-That-Be are taking advantage of the emergency to further increase censorship. The fines for publishing criticisms on social networks or questioning the government’s management of the crisis have become an instrument to silence independent journalists, who are cited to meet with the political police in order to intimidate them.

It is expected that as the number of infected people grows and the economic crisis worsens, the authorities will cut even more citizens’ freedoms. The independent press is, undoubtedly, at the center of these intentions. As if the masks that now populate our streets should also act as gags. The mouth sealed, both literally and metaphorically.

So in addition to the lines, the heat and the coronavirus we will have to deal with an increase in repression. In the face of this even stricter slashing of freedoms, fans, rationed-liberated chicken and roasted peanuts are totally useless, the only thing that works is denunciation and acting like a free person.

*Translator’s note: Cubans use the English word to refer to the large commercial establishments.

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