Talk About “Improper Conduct”… / Miriam Celaya

The government is campaigning for the ‘loss of ethical and moral values’ in society, but what about the disrespect of entering into armament arrangements with the North Korean dictatorship?

The title refers to a memorable documentary that many of us Cubans everywhere must have seen, based on the testimony of those who suffered stark arbitrariness and terror introduced by the Castro regime in the purge unleashed some forty years ago. Improper conduct was an illegal crime figure established in the 60′s and 70′s of the last century by the Castro regime to suppress what was officially considered sexual deviations (homosexuality, “sentimentality”), ideological deviation or anything that could be interpreted by the authorities as politically incorrect. Many intellectuals, artists and ordinary people were arrested, ousted, sent to labor camps or simply made to feel as strangers in their own country.

Most of the anonymous victims of the witch hunt, which was established as State policy were men, for committing the serious offense of wearing their hair long, their pants too tight, not joining the “people’s harvests” or who preferred a certain type of music, among others. No one escaped the close scrutiny of the Inquisition and its olive green zealous executives. Anyone could fall out of favor against the rigid revolutionary parameters.

The repression continued for a time, but the methods changed.  Some of what was once condemned became tolerated, and, currently, schematic guerrillas have been forced to take on new poses and to even accept certain differences. Without apologizing for the damage, without admitting that the unprecedented persecution or the attack against basic rights of free people, that same government now pretends to be in charge of the defense of those rights, and, to prove it, it promotes campaigns, holds events and even organizes parades and festivals.

However, following the speech by the General President at the recent session of the National Assembly, in which he announced a crusade against rudeness and social indiscipline, he said that the wind of censure against “the loss of moral and ethical values” is once again blowing through our streets. Some people claim that fines are being applied to persons who “swear” or profess rudeness in public, who board the bus through the back door or who don’t pay their fares, those who are loud and disturb their neighbors, who throw garbage and debris on the road, etc. In principle, it would not be such a bad thing if it weren’t just one more campaign, or if there were just one Cuban free from all these sins in order to fine the sinners or, if applying these measures didn’t interfere with the rights of other citizens.

For instance, a few days ago, a teenager whom I will call Daniel, residing in the municipality of El Cerro in Havana, was returning home after his high school graduation. With the ease and ideas of spontaneity typical of his age, feeling himself without the responsibilities of schooling and under the harsh summer sun, he had rolled up the legs of his ugly and faded yellow school uniform, and his shirt was partially unbuttoned and hanging outside the waistline of his pants. Carefree, he walked while concentrating on the music blaring in his ears, so he was taken by surprise when a man, very authoritatively, abruptly stopped him in the middle of the street, after demanding the boy take off his headphones and unroll his pant legs immediately.

Instantly, Daniel doubted whether the man was in his right mind, so he demanded to know who he was and why he should obey him.  Then the individual identified himself, not by his name but as an “inspector of minors”, he accused him of incorrectly wearing his uniform, “a symbol of the mother country that the Revolution had given him” and because of that, his parents could be fined and he could be detained in a “care center for improperly behaved youths.”

Not allowing himself to be too impressed, Daniel explained that he was not in uniform because, in fact, he was returning from his high school graduation, so he wouldn’t have any more use for it, that he was going home after having stood in the hot sun in the schoolyard for a very long time, listening to the required speeches before getting his diploma, and that, as he understood it, the symbols of the motherland were the Cuban flag, the national coat of arms and the Bayamo* National Anthem and not an old pair of pants that -to be exact- the revolution had not given to him, but that his mother had bought at an excessive price in the black market after, a year ago, he had outgrown the one rationed to him. The man persisted with his threats, demanded the boy’s identity card and even tried to hold Daniel by the arm. Then, the teenager shook him off and, seriously scared, ran all the way home.

The event, unconditionally true, is based on the direct testimony of the boy and his family. But, in fact, the important thing here is not simply to determine if Daniel acted correctly or not. For many years it has been customary among our teenagers graduating from different levels to perform this kind of rite of passage which desecrates the old uniform, considered by them -and by previous generations, no longer so young- a symbol of the control that educational institutions exercised over their lives. It’s merely an innocent act of rebellion, typical of this stage in their lives, that results in disparate forms of expression: from having their shirts autographed by their classmates to intentionally tearing their uniforms into strips while they are wearing them, without any major consequences.

What this is about, essentially, is that no officer or agent of the government has the authority to coerce a child, whether in private or in public, thus transgressing the rights of that teenager, as well as those of his parents and of other adult family members. The significance of the matter is that, in different hues and in another scenario, official impunity and people’s defenselessness are repeated, counter to the supposed “changes” that the Government advocates, which should immediately set off fire alarms in the population.

And because this is about fines and punishments, the government is not able to take up the slack. These days, Cubans are the ones who should analyze what actions to take about the unspeakable rudeness on the part of their government of entering into arrangements with our other planet’s dictatorship, the North Koreans, cheating the Cuban people and offending the civilized world and the international organizations of which we are members. Castro II should explain this and many other violations that betray the government’s lack of ethical and moral values before attempting to apply enforcement action over his “governed”.

We should also have to include in the analysis the direct responsibility of half a century of totalitarian abuse in the loss of ethics and moral values of our society, not to mention the systematic violation of citizens’ rights throughout all that time. Too bad this same government has also deprived us, with the suppression of civic institutions, of the tools to demand explanations and ensure compliance. Without a doubt, the hour is getting close for the beginning of real reforms in Cuba, starting with policies.

*Cuban National Anthem’s original and traditional title

Miriam Celaya | Havana | July 26th, 2013

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by Norma Whiting