Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2018 — The initial surprise is making him more and more angry and likely to lose his temper. Sitting in a black leather armchair in the living room in his house, 43-year-old Armando, a qualified physical education instructor, first moves his head from side to side, then smiles cynically, until he blows his fuse and shouts rudely: “Marino Murillo is a complete dick-face. With that bunch of shameless crooks for officials, Cuba cannot be fixed.”
Armando was watching an edited summary on TV of the eighth session of the National People’s Power Assembly which took place on 21st December just gone, put out after 6 pm on the Cubavision channel, pre-recorded in the Roundtable slot, to the whole country.
In one of the exchanges, Marino Murillo, ex Minister of Economy and Planning, known as the Economy Czar, explained how difficult it would be to abandon the dual currency, and touched on future regulations on private work and non-agricultural co-ops, as well as looking at new customs rules to put a brake on what the government considers illegal business. Armando couldn’t contain himself while he was listening to Murillo.
“What a fat fucker with his fat face and fat neck! More controls on private business, people flogging cheap trash and non-farm co-ops. He shamefacedly told us that the General (Raul Castro) told him that when they started the reform programme they didn’t know how complicated it would be. Right, and who pays for his inefficiency and ignorance?” Armando asks himself. To which he replies: “Nobody. And they keep going with the tired old tale that currency reunification is a slow business, and that we will have to wait for prosperity and decent wages. And it’s quite clear that none of the National officials have any problems with their housing or with getting food. They don’t care how long it takes to sort out the dual currency.”
Habaneros like Armando are the exception. None of the 10 persons we talked to had seen or read about the contributions by the deputies in the one-tune parliament. And more than that, they’re not interested.
“I’ve got high blood pressure. Do you think I’m gonna pick a fight with that lot, while they’re planning how to fuck us all? That’s why we Cubans are trying to find out whatever way to fuck the government. It’s an unofficial war. You rob me paying shit salaries and I rob my customers giving them short weight. They took away my sales licence for farm products, so I sell stuff informally. I don’t bother to fight these old farts. They have full pockets. I look for the way to make money and look after my family,” says Disney, a clerk on a private farm.
The economic and social strategies and policies dictated by the olive green brigade is not something that ordinary Cubans talk about. People’s passivity is alarming.
Zulema, who goes 8 to 10 times a year to Mexico or to the Panama Canal Zone to buy clothes and smartphones to sell them again in Cuba, says you shouldn’t pay any attention to the Cuban leaders. “If you get to tied up with them you get worn out. You can’t follow their rhythm. As far as I’m concerned, these old guys who have been in power for over fifty years are not going to get to me. Every time they close things up more and you have to look for whichever gap you can squeeze through.”
In more measured tones, Carlos, a sociologist, explains that there is an alarming disconnect between the government and the people. “They speak one language and the people speak another. People have lost confidence in their leaders and see them as a pain, a bunch of officials who only want to make problems, stopping them bettering themselves, moving forward, getting a better life. For quite a while a large part of the population have been coming up with whatever ways they can working for themselves and taking their own risks. The government’s decrees are a waste of breath. Nobody takes any notice of them.”
The island seems like a drifting boat. The perception is that the mandarins who run the country’s destiny are disorientated. They look tired and lacking in initiative. They don’t know how to connect with the people. They’ve lost the plot.
Because of this Yanet, her husband, and three kids over 18 only think about drinking beer they buy in bulk in a stinking state bar ande cheap rum they get for 20 pesos a bottle in any government store. While they are drinking in their propped-up house, they have reguetón full blast on the radio. Four friends play dominos on an untidy table, and a couple who are pissed dance drunkenly.
In a dented cooking pot, they are preparing a meat soup with pork bones. “There’s nothing else here. Today we party, and tomorrow … we’ll see. What am I hoping for in 2018. Same thing as 2017 — nothing. With this lot, we’ll have to go hungry. They have their fridges full of stuff to eat, and next year and the next, and the next it will be the same for them, and for us it will be worse. In Cuba things always get worse. This country is a disgrace,” says Yanet, while she moves her hips to the reguetón rhythm.
People who don’t have anything to lose just float. Day to day. Without worrying too much about the future. Not even a hurricane or a North Korean missile will change their brutal indifference. “Something very strange is happening in Cuba. Like in some parts of Africa, the only thing that interests many people is their family, their possessions and their surroundings. Patriotism and political awareness has faded away for most people,” explains Carlos the sociologist.
Damian, a university student, hopes to emigrate, one way or another. “If it isn’t next year, it will be the one after. My main aim is to get out of this madness.” Lots of Cubans also want to get out and more than a few work and act like zombies. If their objective in 2017 was to have two meals a day and four pesos in their pocket, for 2018 it’ll be the same thing.
And they couldn’t care less if it is Raul Castro running the place, or his son Alejandro, or Miguel Diaz-Canel, or Bruno Rodriguez or whoever. They lost their faith and hope a long time ago.
Translated by GH