The Cuban Way? / Miriam Celaya

As everyone knows, the tendency of many Cubans to magnify the qualities of the Island’s nature and its natives, as if we had been chosen by divine grace, is proverbial. There are a few written works – some of them real satiric gems – whose sole purpose is to satirize this peculiar habit of ours to “be the bestest”: the ones who dance the most, the most mischievous, the best flirts, the bravest, the best lovers, the most loving, the ones who drink the most (and best cheaters), the funniest, the most caring, the most generous, the best hosts, the best baseball players and a long list of others that, of course, only include good things. To be even luckier, we were born in “the most beautiful land human eyes ever saw,” so the most beautiful beaches in the world are in Cuba, and the most fertile lands, the gentlest climate and the best tobacco, best rum, best coffee (here, an etc. similar to the one before). As if so much perfection were not enough, we are, in addition, touched by the gift of wisdom: we know about everything and we know it all. We are, therefore, something like superior stock, the result of a sort of celestial magma placed in this world to the wonder, amazement and envy of mankind.

It’s unfortunate that, seemingly, so many virtues turn out to be useless when dealing with the harsh reality that we have been dealt, especially what we have been living through for the past half a century, and in particular, at this juncture. Since last October 4, 2010, the volcano of the layoffs previously announced entered its active phase and – to my knowledge – in meetings that have already been taking place in some workplaces, such famous Cuban qualities as solidarity and empathy have been relegated to second fiddle, and true camp battles are taking place among and against everyone to hold onto their jobs. Of course, the more attractive those positions are, like those related to tourism and others with similar opportunities for access to “convertible” currency, the bloodier the attacks and stronger the accusations against each other: “Why am I going to get fired and not what’s-her-face, who is corrupt and accepts bribes?” “Why me and not whosie-face, who’s always late?” In the midst of so much moral decay, there have been revelations of bedroom secrets: “Sure, they are not going to fire You-know-who because she f…ed the head of the commission.” It is said that, in recent days, the meeting of the dismissal commission at Terminal 3 of the International Airport was a real scandal that brought to light so much dirty laundry and corruption of work “companions” that even the District Attorney will take action in the matter.

Definitely, at the moment of truth, too many Cubans put aside their love and their famous sense of humor and tear each other apart mercilessly, and the worst thing is that this is not a new experience. They did the same thing during the meetings of the 70’s and 80’s, those in which they “assigned” electrical appliances in the workplace, and more than 500 workers had to compete in revolutionary merits for a single Soviet refrigerator; or when it was time to hand out twenty or so apartments in a new micro-brigade building among hundreds of candidates – who had been working in the sun for years on its construction – and the officials in their guayaberas – who remained in their air-conditioned offices all that time – and suddenly all that hatred and the most acrid accusations came unleashed, not among the system’s managers, but among those who had, up to then, while they worked together side by side, shared their snacks and their hopes.

At the zero hour, no Cuban – or almost none, to avoid being absolute, although I have not known any exception to this rule – has the wisdom to discover where his real enemy is. At the zero hour, a Cuban on the island, instead of closing ranks with his fellow prisoners and staking the flag and saying, “either nobody leaves or we all leave”, instead of saying one thing and feeling another, vents his anger and frustration against his companions in a despicable, opportunistic and aggressive attitude that only defends the precariousness of his own survival. No Cuban here will leave with a placard that reads with at least one sentence begging, “don’t get me fired, I have family to support”, neither will he point his finger at his long time boss. These days, any Cuban will turn tormentor against one another, stupidly believing that action will save his neck. The myth of the native kindness breaks down because, deep down, if there is one thing this system has stamped on the national conscience it’s fear, with its eternal maximum expression: cowardice. Today, that is the most visible characteristic of a Cuban. The government knows it well, and it has the advantage of power and strength. That is why it has leisurely laid off with impunity half a million workers in barely six months; that is why it allows itself to decide the moment, the rhythm and the depth of the so-called “reforms” to “update” a model that for 50 years has already demonstrated its ineffectiveness and that, thanks to the proven “courage” of Cubans, threatens to maintain the sultanate until the end of time.

Photo: Orlando Luis

Translated by Norma Whiting

October 22, 2010