The Census, the Counted, the Censored… / Yoani Sánchez

Today we are: Friendly, Supportive, Kind, Cheerful, Happy, Loving, Affectionate, Optimistic

I was not a number in the last census taken in Cuba. I didn’t appear in the figure of 11,177,143 people who — by choice or by resignation — inhabited the country at that moment. Asphyxiated by the lack of expectations, I had left my country some months earlier, before the start of the great national count. But I remember my family and friends writing me, frightened, about the social workers who knocked on the door and asked a ton of questions. In a country where the great majority have something to hide, every inquiry on the part of the State is suspect. For example, on that occasion they asked whether the family had a computer, six years before Raul Castro authorized stores to sell them legally. People lied and lied, in order to conceal from the census takers — or censors? — where their income came from, the number of appliances they owned, or how many people actually lived in the house.

Recently they’ve announced a new population census and the television has no lack of commercials, programs and reports to dispel the suspicion this generates. They announced that they will not ask for identity documents, and that the information will only be used for “statistical purposes”… not handed to the police. But tearing down the wall of distrust is not so easy, especially in a society where privacy in the home has been greatly invaded by official institutions. Thus, the widespread tendency to deceive the State requires a question mark to be added to each piece of data extracted from a house-to-house survey. Almost comical situations arise when, in a building like mine, the survey takers arrive at a building and neighbors pass the word to hide under a blanket — or in the closet — those objects that are prohibited or whose origin is illicit.

Notwithstanding the apprehensions and doubts, taking such an inventory would be quite useful right now. We could confirm with the numbers some obvious trends. Among these is the marked aging of the population, the low birthrate, and the growing emigration. Probably, even if the sociologists manage to get the numbers, we will never be informed about the rate of suicides, divorces or abortions, because these  figures disrupt the image of the “island paradise.” Also, for each number published — as in every study — we will have to add a margin of error and subtract a certain percentage for falsehoods, those saving lies with which so many will respond to the detailed questionnaire of the upcoming census.

19 October 2011