Nationalizing the Stockholm Syndrome / Ernesto Morales Licea

It is not black humor this time: the Cuban Workers Union (CTC), after finishing a wide-reaching session this November 1, signed — unconditionally — their marriage with the government, just before the imminent dismissal of half a million “unsuitable” workers by this coming April.

And as expected, they didn’t even blush.

Salvador Valdes Mesa, general secretary of the country’s only trade union, asserted that the workers will support these labor reorganization measures, and that they will be consistent and massive. Half the world is incredulous, permanently distrustful: it may seem surreal to them, but it is reported in our paper and digital press. They can rush to read it.

Translating the facts, we could say that an organization — the very essence and definition of which is the uncompromising defense of the rights of the workers — has raised its right hand, put the other hand on the Bible, and sworn loyalty to the body that lays off workers, as opposed to those laid-off.

Is there any other country where such absurdities could so quickly come to pass?

But we aren’t surprised. The same Cuban Workers Union, in a communication reproduced in our media, was the official spokesperson for the dismissals which, under the euphemism “qualification process” have already started across the country.

Indeed, the current chessboard has given us another contribution to the revolutionary jargon: it so happens that in Cuba, from now on, there will be no “laid off” or “unemployed” workers. There will be “unsuitable” and “available” workers. So it was decided by our enlightened leadership, so it appears in our obedient press.

The most interesting thing happening lately in Cuban workplaces, however, is worthy of comic theater; that is the meetings being held by the local unions with their own members, ordinary working people.

These are preparatory meetings, in effect to lobby for what is coming, and to explain in the most dramatic way possible the comatose state of the economy. (Read: the comatose state into which the economy has been led by none other than the government itself.) The second step is to convince the potential unemployed of the need for them to leave the game. And, accordingly, they are asked not just to accept the reality, but to approve and support it.

Here we see a useful reference: the most famous novel in all of literature about totalitarianism. Does anyone remember how George Orwell’s 1984 ends? With the vaporization of freethinking Winston Smith by the representatives of power.

But before they dismantle him as a social, individual and biological being, the repressors take on a special task: to convince him of his error, to show him the fallacy of his dispute with Big Brother, and to make sure he ends up loving the leader. After the purification of his soul, he is disappeared.

I think there is no more exact metaphor for what is happening today in our country than this fictionalized invention: the government has decided to throw 500,000 Cubans into the street, in a way that those Cubans themselves support the resolution that converts them into“availables.”

The main obstacle to these meetings between the union and the workers, however, is a timely issue: how to convince the future“disassociated” that they will really be able to earn a living from one of the new occupations established by the State.

You do not need an exceptional brain to understand that almost none of the 178 economic activities recently legalized would allow a fairly decent living, let alone prosperity and quality of life.

The reason is a basic one: there is no way to survive giving dogs haircuts, or caring for parks and public toilets, in a country where you pay a 240% tax on staples, and where every day the real value of the currency depreciates against the price of electricity, public transport, and food. (On October 29 the Electric Company announced a further increase in its already high rate for those using more than 300 kWh per month.)

Even worse, and what few seem to have noticed, is that the new opportunities supposedly offered by the State, are, in reality, new ways to empty the already bare pockets of our fellow countrymen.

For example: Until now the unhappy topper-of-palms, or the math tutor, could work without having to account to anyone. Now, they will not only earn the same pittance as before, but will be forced to take out a license and pay fixed taxes on their little enterprises. The picture, even if they don’t yet understand it, is bleak.

So, faced with a process where the workers have been nothing more than the victims of the inefficiency of the system being imposed upon them, where they have fallen into the web of unproductivity inherent in centralized economies, and where no one but the ruling class is to blame for this situation, what does the only body that could supposedly help the unemployed do? What does the union that takes a portion of your salary as a tribute every month do? Not just abandon you to your fate. Worse, it sweetly takes you by the hand and walks you towards the precipice.

I think a few examples could be more effective in showing the visceral damage caused to institutions and organizations by totalitarian regimes. What the Cuban government has put into practice discredits still more, and perverts still more, and dilutes still more, the essence of an organization that in other parts of the world constitutes the principal headache for companies and politicians, by closing ranks with the victims against the victimizers.

Could there have been — even within the same system! — another more decent role for the Cuban Workers Union? For me, yes. It might, at the very least, have been a public negotiator for the conditions of those laid off, it could have reduced the number of positions to be eliminated, or it could have pressured the leaders to offer the future unemployed real options to earn a living in private businesses, something more than enterprises such as “covering buttons” or “creating a dance partner” a la “Benny Moré.”

But the role reserved for this organization, which it has accepted without question, is the most embarrassing possible: “You take this dagger and plunge it in your chest and smile please.”

Stockholm Syndrome, one of the unique diseases among human mental disorders, describes the behavior of a hostage who ends up in solidarity with his kidnapper, and comes to collaborate in his own captivity.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently awarded a shirt — the guayabera — the title of “official diplomatic clothing.” Let no one be surprised if, before too long, the Cuban Psychiatric Society (at the request of the Cuban Workers Union, of course), proclaims the Stockholm Syndrome to be the “National Pathology.”

November 14, 2010