14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 January 2018 – On the final Thursday of last year, the young journalist Norge Rodríguez posted on his Facebook wall the new measures that the Cuban government would supposedly take as of this coming February to “get out of the economic crisis affecting the country for nearly three decades once and for all.”
Those who read the posting to the final line were told they could find more details through a link that led to the Wikipedia listing for the Day of the Holy Innocents, a date on which, in almost all Latin America, jokes of all kinds are made, including in the media through the broadcast of false news.
Those who did not read until the end ventured to reproduce what was, in fact, a “joke of the Innocents” in social networks, blogs and information sites. Nor was there any lack of “analysts” who devoted their time to speculating on the likelihood of some flexibilizations that were spread within the Island through emails, printed sheets and USB memories.
The owner of a restaurant received one of those papers, from the hands of a customer, clipped to the Letter of the Year with the predictions of the babalaos. A member of the Communist Party could not resist the temptation to ask his neighbor, an independent journalist, if he had heard about the new measures; while a plumber accompanied his teenage son to connect to the internet to get more details about the “reform package.”
In a few days, the joke went viral throughout the country as if it were authentic information, fueling illusions, exciting entrepreneurs and becoming the center of conversations in parks, sports clubs and at family tables.
In an unusual exchange of telephone calls, everyone who felt they would benefit consulted their “frequently well informed” sources about the veracity of the news. These, in turn, went to their usual informants located in the upper echelons of power, in search of signs regarding whether the changes were actually coming.
The supposed measures covered four areas of public interest: self-employment, migration policy, land ownership and Internet access. The document suggested that others were also expected, including ones regarding the press, citizen participation, transparency and democratic governance.
Entrepreneurs welcomed with enthusiasm the elimination of the concept of “permitted activities” and cheered in a low voice the granting of legal status to entities that would be able to “associate with foreign companies and capital.” Their eyes shone when they read that they could import products of a commercial nature and export their products or services.
The private sector, with more than half a million workers, trembled with optimism when they read that a fund was being created for the development of self-employment and fiscal incentives for cooperatives. The offices of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) began receiving numerous calls to learn details about the openings.
Cubans settled outside the country shared their joy when they “learned” that the passport extension process was going to be eliminated and that the document would be valid for 10 years, at a cost of 120 dollars abroad and 60 CUC on the island. The emigrants also welcomed the disappearance of the concept of “repatriation.”
The measures, which circulated from hand to hand, included a new Agrarian Reform so that the farmers would become the legitimate owners of the lands they worked and the concept of leasing in usufruct would be abolished. At the same time they were going to be allowed to import supplies, machinery, tools and also to export their products.
The appetite for electronic access was satiated in the novel flexibilizations because, as of March, the internet service would be extended to all households, without time restrictions and at reasonable prices. Along the same lines, it was also stated that foreign telecommunications operators could establish themselves in the country.
From the sociological point of view, the most striking of these “jokes of the Innocents” is the enthusiasm sparked, given that the fictitious package straddled the fence with a foot on each side: on one side the moderate opposition, and on the other the place where the boldest await reforms from the official spheres.
Some dissidents who read the document regretted that the decriminalization of thinking differently, the openness to free association and the freedom of expression were not included. While the most radical began to dismiss it as another attempt by the nomenklatura to perpetuate itself in power, a step to buy the consciousness of the emerging middle class.
Among the most orthodox followers of the ruling party, few believed in the truthfulness of the measures that everyone was talking about on the street. A simple review of the most recent party and government accords made it clear that everything would have to be false, unless an “unacceptable betrayal of the principles” was in the process of being developed.
When it got to the level of the press and the journalists of the ruling party it appeared as if it might necessary to publish a denial describing the event as “a new campaign against Cuba,” but in the end they opted for silence so as not to add fuel to the fire of the rumors.
The most skeptical detected the hoax from the beginning, noting the government’s maxim that any reform should lead to the “perfection” of socialism and realizing that the measures were like corrosive acid on a system that privileges the advantage of the State over private initiative. While implementing such measures would not bring the “overthrow” of the regime, it would deal devastating blows to it.
For two weeks, that list of flexibilizations tested the credulity of a society anxious to hear good news and also offered a warning: If a new electoral law is approved in Cuba, one that would allow candidates to run on proposed platforms – which is strictly forbidden in the current system which allows candidates to offer only their biographies (and forbids any campaigning at all) – anyone who dared to offer such platforms would be swept away at the ballot boxes.
But the platform of the innocents would win, no doubt, among those who read the deceiving joke and believed it was true.
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