Where Are Arantxa and Other Useful Fools Now?

The Youth Labor Army (EJT) market on 17th street, in Havana, these past days. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 19 November 2020 — With a casual tone, under the Havana summer sun, the Spanish political scientist Arantxa Tirado recorded a video last year where she explained the wonders of the Cuban economy, wonders that allowed a person to have three meals a day and even a snack for only 30 euros per month. Now, the same market that served as the setting for her dissertation is practically empty, but the protagonist of that panegyric is missing, not here to film this other side of reality.

At the corner of 17th and K streets, in El Vedado, the market stands have been almost deserted for weeks. Some dismal bananas, stone-hard oranges and ginger are among the few products that have appeared sporadically in the last month in what was one of the best-stocked markets in the Cuban capital, managed by the military through the Youth Labor Army (EJT). The ingredients that Tirado claimed to have stocked up on while on the Island are now found only in our memories and in the brief images of her video.

Those images raised a cloud of reproach when they went viral on Cuban social networks last January. An avalanche of criticism fell on the political scientist who, after spending a few days on the island, already felt sufficiently educated about Cuban daily life to instruct and clarify, to the “enemies” of the system, their mistakes. How many of those useful fools have we not met inside and outside our national borders? Why do none ever appear to report what contradicts their thesis?

I try to contain the toothache from a terrible filling from the polyclinic in my Havana neighborhood, while I remember some Germans who explained to me in the Berlin subway the tremendous advantages of the Cuban Public Health system. Several days of frustration passed before this I received dental repair because there was no water or electricity on the premises. I was finally able to “resolve” the treatment after giving the dentist on duty some soap and a sandwich.

Once, even a Canadian tried to convince me of the happiness of Cuban workers who never went out to protest in the streets to demand better wages or increases in their pensions. He added that he saw people in the street moving freely and that this was evidence of the advantages of the island’s political model. While he was developing his argument, several police officers with unfriendly faces fluttered around us in Havana’s Central Park to determine if I was a national who would be fined for “harassing a tourist.”

The list of preachers of utopia, builders of castles of smoke, and falsifiers of our reality is long. They unfold a story in golden tones to convince their audience that this is the best of all possible countries and that any criticism of its authorities is a vile imperialist hoax. Part of that spirit, between illusionist and combative, prompted a Spanish traveler to say – without blushing – in front of a camera, that she spent in a month, and only on food, the entire salary of a Cuban engineer.

And now, Arantxa Tirado? Where are you now to say that neither double nor triple that amount is enough to fill your bag? Do you dare to film another video in the 17th street market in Havana? This time prepare your wallet and practice your lies better.


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