"I’ll Die As I Lived: Standing in Line"

The Cienfuegos “Municipal Procedures Unit” with images of Fidel Castro playing in a look while people wait for hours for their turn. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 23 January 2018 — It’s two o’clock in the morning and on San Carlos Street in Cienfuegos all you can hear are the crickets. For Jesús, it’s a late night like any other. He retired from his job as a bus driver almost a decade ago, and at 75 he has enough energy to take the first shifts in the line for dealing with government paperwork, places he will resell later in the day.

“The line is an art. You have to learn how to master it so you can go on living,” he says, while having a cup of coffee near the bus terminal.

For each place in line he manages to sell he charges 50 pesos in national currency, about $2 US or a fifth of his monthly pension. “This is a country for retirees because they are the ones who can stand in these long lines for everything,” he says. “If I lived on what the State pays me for working for them for years, I would be in misery.”

By six in the morning there are already more than 20 people outside the Municipal Procedures Unit and Jesús has the first two places in the line. “There are two lines,” he explains. “The longest is to request an identity card, passport and address changes, the other line is for foreigners, for non-Cubans who want to reside on the Island and for Cubans living abroad who wish to repatriate.”

Two hours later the line begins to become a crowd. There are already around 60 people who forcefully cram themselves against the doors of the official building, which remains closed.

“When do they open, at 8:00 or at 8:30?” says an annoyed woman. There is no visible sign showing the office hours.

The murmurs and complaints increase. “It’s always the same with these people, they treat the people as if they were sheep,” says someone.

“This is nice, you just have to understand it,” replies another person sarcastically. “We’re going to see when Cuba Dice (Cuba Says — a program on state television that talks about irregularities and negligence) is going to do a program on this,” adds a third voice.

At about 8 o’clock in the morning the door opens and a Major of the Ministry of the Interior addresses the crowd that has been waiting for hours. “Good morning, compañeros, we are going to have one line to enter the office, foreigners and Cubans who live abroad make one line, and the rest make another,” he says.

The officer makes it clear that it is not his task to organize the line. “You are making the line and if someone sneaks in, it is not our problem, you should be alert and disciplined so that the line can proceed,” he adds.

For Jesús this is the worst moment. The retiree finds it difficult to have to squeeze together with several dozen people in the entrance hall to the government office. He has had to endure several nudges, pushes, stomps, and even fights to secure one of the first places in line. His food depends on it.

“After I get past the line, when I’m already inside, I wait for the person who will come to take their turn. Payment is always made in advance, it’s hard work, but it’s better than standing guard at a kindergarten,” he explains. The business arrangements are made days in advance and he finds his customers through the recommendations of others who were satisfied with the way he handled himself.

The Paperwork Unit waiting room is “torture,” in the words of Jesús.

“It occured to some official to set up a television set with images of Fidel, so for the whole time you’re waiting (it could be four or five hours), you listen to songs dedicated to the comandante and see his image,” he says.

The sequence with images of Castro includes episodes from his childhood, the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, the battles of the Bay of Pigs, his work as president from the ’70s to the ’90s and several images of his convalescence after his abdominal surgery.

Every six seconds or so the images of the former president alternate with classic themes of the revolutionary repertoire: “Singing and weeping of the earth, singing and weeping of the glory,” sings the now deceased Sara González. Pablo Milanes follows her with songs like It has not been easy or If the poet is you. Nor is the sequence missing Silvio Rodriguez with The Fool, and Riding with Fidel, by Raul Torres. The Buena Fe duo is also part of the slideshow with songs dedicated to the Revolution.

Fidel with Evo Morales, Fidel with the boy Elián, Fidel with Rafael Correa, Fidel with Hugo Chávez, Fidel with Maduro, Fidel with Raúl, Fidel with Cristina Fernández, Fidel with Ortega, Fidel at the Bay of Pigs, Fidel with the ’White Udder’ cow, Fidel pushing his jeep during the Special Period … In five hours waiting for a turn to complete some paperwork those who wait are exposed to at least 3,000 images of the former president.

“And this with the deceased having said he didn’t want people to worship his personality. The officer who sits next to the television must dream of Fidel every night,” Jesús says sarcastically.

The retiree considers himself “a paperworkologist ” and gives great importance to his work. “People need to work, study, take care of their lives, not spend hours in line, that’s why my work is so well paid,” he says.

Around nine o’clock in the morning, he turns over his place in line to the person who needs to complete some paperwork and goes home to the San Lazaro neighborhood.

According to the old man, in a week he can charge the equivalent of his monthly pension. “It’s the way I can help my family, my grandchildren, in the end, the old ones like me, all they have left is this,” and he jokingly paraphrases one of Silvio Rodríguez’s classic themes: “I’ll die as I lived: standing in line.”


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.