The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)
Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Eliecer Avila, 23 July 2014 – I grew up listening to my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future, a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the vices “inherited from capitalism.”

Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to this society. It seems we had a monkey painted on our faces and anyone could mock us. Things had reached the point that my father, relentless defender of the best values, today tells me that if I continue trusting in everyone I might end up dead.

Just a few months ago I was at the bus station when a gentleman approached to tell me he’d spent three days sleeping there, on the floor and eating other people’s leftovers, because he didn’t have the money to return to the east. He had spent all he possessed “taking care of my mother who is very old and in the hospital here in Havana.” His eyes were sad, his clothes dirty, and his voice trembled. That boy wasn’t even 30 yet.

With my hands trembling as well—because I’d brought just enough for the ticket, the necessary bribes and something to eat during the long and uncomfortable journey—I took out 50 pesos and gave it to him. If I hadn’t done it, my conscience would have punished me.

Knowing that this money wouldn’t be enough to cover his passage and the bribes to Holguin—where he told me he lived—I decided to intervene with the authorities in the hopes of persuading someone to be benevolent toward his situation.

At the risk of missing my bus, I went upstairs looking for a boss, knocking on several doors until they indicated that those problems were dealt with directly by the person in charge. On going downstairs, the man I was defending had fled.

Why would such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself to scamming and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty way? 

Throughout the journey, more than 12 hours, I kept wondering, why would such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself to scamming and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty way? I have no doubt that this gentleman would shine in any theater audition.

Days later, two boys dressed in EJT (Youth Work Army) uniforms crossed my path, one of them obviously from Santiago, from his accent, and the other from Havana. They told me they were desperate to sell “some perks they’d handed out in the Unit,” as they needed money “for food,” and “you know how hungry you get there,” “shit man, help us out, you’re an easterner too,” pressuring me very strongly…

Already greatly annoyed by the desperate insistence of these two “gualdias” I did my calculations and figured that buying that package of personal toiletries would save me money over the terrible prices in the hard currency stores.

“This stuff you got is trash, I hope you haven’t been cheated…”

Big mistake. When I got home, my wife, more clear-eyed on these issues, looked at me and said, “This stuff you got is crap, I hope you haven’t been cheated again…” Indeed.

When I looked at it closely it was clear the bottles were recycled from the trash. Their contents, an odd mixture with the texture and color to look convincing at a glance, lightly scented with bath conditioner.

To make matters worse, I had to take antihistamines immediately, my forearms started to get red and break out in the places where the “combatants” had, without my permission, rubbed a sample of their products. I can’t imagine what could have happened if I had exposed my eyes and mouth to these suspicious chemicals.

Then I understood why so many pass down my street hawking these wares; they’re selling empty name brand perfume bottles!

Two weeks ago a gentleman, supposedly a friend of the mason repairing my house, appeared with a “sealed” can of Vinyl paint. He told me he got it at “the Mariel workshop” and his boss gave it to him or “scraping a few extra boards.” Already wary from the earlier experiences I was distrustful, and looking at the doubt in my face the gentleman broke the seals of the container and showed me the contents. It all looked good. So I bought it. Three days later the stink in the house was unbearable. We thought it was a broken sewer pipe. It was the paint. It was more than half dirty water and it fermented quickly.

These stories are only a tiny sample of what you face on a daily basis when you go out looking for something in this ever more aggressive capital.

To get wire, a tube, a door latch, or a lamp is a risk-filled operation, in which you are forced to wander through dark nooks and crannies and negotiate with characters who remind you of Colombian drug trafficker from TV shows.

Fortunately, to forget the sorrows of daily life, we can take a gallon of beer on the upcoming 26th of July in Artemisa. Celebrating, as Raul says, that “we are winning against imperialism.” Or is that other scam…