‘It Is Opportune To Speak About Opportunism’ and Other Daily Masks

In a society where many fear to speak and behave freely, opportunism has become a conservation technique. (Thinkstok)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 18 December 2019 — Masks, disguises, deceitfulness… in a society where many fear to speak and behave freely, opportunism has become a technique of self-preservation, in a real strategy for social, professional and political survival. Thirty-two years ago, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, then a columnist for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), wrote a piece that is still painfully current. His article, under the title It Is Opportune To Talk About Opportunism, detailed the harmfulness of this practice and how widespread it is in Cuban society.

Escobar defined three stages through which the opportunist passes. A first of gestation, in which they must gain the confidence of their superiors and, to achieve this, will have to perform numerous acts that show themselves to be individuals faithful to the cause, a disciplined militant and docile defender of the official line. These, we know them well. They are in our neighborhoods betraying a neighbor because he bought a sack of cement on the black market, watching what others carry inside their bags after going to the market and applauding with enthusiasm at meetings and official events; or screaming until it seems that the veins in their neck are bursting at a repudiation rally against a dissident

The second stage of the opportunist occurs when they begin to reap the fruits of their servile behavior, when they are given a position or a responsibility from which they will show an absolute flattery to their bosses. Now they will become that which Cuban popular speech knows, pure and simple, as a “guatacón”* or a “chicharrón”* of their superiors. At that moment, the opportunist becomes more dangerous, because in order to gain points and obtain recognition from a hierarchy they will be able to show the greatest displays of intolerance, the most elevated excesses of gagging critics and the lowest actions of blows, denunciations and betrayals.

Once that step has been passed, the opportunist begins to reap the results and the prizes of so many genuflections, of saying “yes” and of so much applause. When they are appointed to a post with power, in which they have subordinates to command and prerogatives to enjoy, they arrive at a position they will try to preserve at all costs. It does not matter how much their words betray double standards or nonsense, they will laud sacrifice on the one hand, while living in abundant comfort. They are easily recognized because they call their employees to austerity while their house is full of imported goods and appliances from their numerous trips.

The image, by the cartoonist ‘Carlucho’, which illustrated an article by the journalist Reinaldo Escobar in the newspaper ‘Juventud Rebelde’ (Rebel Youth). (Archive)

The problem is that after so many years pretending, shutting up and making others shut up, the opportunist’s mask ends up replacing their own face. If there was ever any reformist, critic or questioner within it, too many decades of simulations will have quenched that spirit. But is opportunism an evil that is only found among officials, administrators, ministers, partisan leaders or senior officials in Cuba? Not at all, it is a scourge that extends far beyond that.

Many of us, in one way or another, have been at some point in our lives opportunists, because we have used the mask or silence to avoid social stigmatization, labor penalization, professional punishment and even prison time. Understand that we are all responsible for the occasional simulation and the occasional gag that can help us unmask these attitudes. Let us not look down from above or throw the first stone, because from that position it will be very difficult to disarm this social evil.

Opportunism is also the young person who says “I do not talk about politics,” while locked in the house devoting their time to video games and consuming the contents of the weekly packet’s audiovisuals, while the Cuba on the other side of the door falls apart and they enjoy some crumbs of subsidies. The opportunist is the self-employed person who is going to march to the Plaza of the Revolution on May 1 with a sign that says “Viva!” to the regime to avoid having problems with the inspectors who control and supervise their pizza or ice cream business.

Opportunists are the patients and their families who remain silent about and accept the bad conditions in a hospital and prefer to pay under the table for a service or better care rather than loudly demand what they deserve in a Public Health service that we all pay for from our pockets. The opportunist is the retiree who is still a member of the Communist Party and who in the meetings of this organization does not complain that their pension has condemned them to begging.

The opportunist is one who, with a passport already approved to leave the country, decides “not to look for trouble,” or even complain about the poor state of the streets and roads, so that their trip is not cut off and they are allowed to leave without mishaps. But opportunism is also the emigrant who returns and, while spending a few days with their family, “behaves well.” is silent and accepts everything… so that they will not be stopped from returning to the country where they have established their new residence.

The opportunist is the mother who tells her son not to comment at school that forbidden television from Miami is watched at their house through an illegal satellite dish, and at the same time paints the political mural at her workplace; and it is, also, the nephew of the commander, the general or the minister who travels the world on cruise ships or yachts while wearing an Ernesto Guevara beret on his head. As you can see, opportunism is more widespread than we want to recognize and touches almost everyone.

As long as there is fear of reprisal or prison for exercising freedom of expression, there will be opportunists. As long as the system rewards those who pretend and penalizes those who criticize, Cuba will continue to be a huge farm where thousands, millions of opportunists are incubated every day.

*Translator’s note: Equivalent to insults such as “lackey,” “flunky,” “suck up,” “tool,” etc.


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