Sin Evasión / Without Evasion
English translation of Miriam Celaya's blog "Sin EVAsión" from Havana, Cuba
Archive for Noviembre, 2008
I have wanted to publish this photo to share a curiosity with you. Some of you may recall a post titled “Conflicting symbols?” in which I questioned the dubious symbolism represented in the park located at the Fountain of Youth, in front of the Meliá and Riviera hotels. Well the kiosks selling liquor and the flags of CIMEX, the 26th of July and of Cuba that were there have been removed from the site, as you can see in the photograph. I don’t want to believe, because I am not so pretentious, that the system ideologues are reading me, and much less that I made this happen… but I am beginning to wonder after visiting the site earlier this month and finding they had dismantled those conflicting symbols. You tell me what to believe.
For more than a month I have not updated my blog. During this time happy events have happened, at least they’re happy for me: the return of my husband, the triumph of Obama, and a new and deserved award for our friend Yoani Sánchez. This is no small thing. If I were a cadre of the Party leadership, I would surely make a self-criticism of my apparent abandonment of my page, but I’m not, God save me, which allows me to enjoy the good things without having to explain myself. In reality, I have had very personal reasons for absenting myself for so long: some minor modifications to my new housing (which in fact isn’t really “new”) that could not be postponed and, most recently, I’ve taken a vacation to enjoy the company of my husband, who had been gone from Cuba for eight months.
It’s true that keeping a blog is a commitment that should not be laid aside and must be honored, but my kind readers should understand that I also have my heart and not everything has to be war and artillery. Take, then, this prolonged absence from our page, not as a truce nor a symptom of fatigue, rather as another act of rebellion from the unruly and disobedient Eva who strives to be happy, in spite of everything. Rest assured that–when another pot hole appears—it will be for motives of force majeure, but always, absolutely always, I will come back to this space.
I am one of those hundreds of thousands Cubans the journalist Reinaldo Escobar mentioned as supporters of the newly elected president of the United States. For me, surely as for the rest, Obama is a symbol of hope. Hope that (among other things), at last there is a the tiniest glimmer of a possibility that he will end—at least on the part of reasonable and intelligent leader—the dispute between the governments of Cuba and the United States which has provided so much ammunition to the government of the Island to “justify” the repression and shortages inside the country. And I say “on the part of a leader…” referring to the American side, because I am convinced that the Cuban side is not prepared to put an end to the rubric that most strongly supports its absurd ideology. Perhaps this is the reason that at this point Cuba is the only government that has not congratulated the new American president.
Just yesterday, November 19, I had the opportunity to enjoy the moving victory speech delivered by Obama in front of more than a hundred thousand souls: an emotional and happy audience that was not called together by any mass organization, by any party, nor by their work places; there was not a single uniform or fundamentalist slogan; it was a collective spirit, spontaneous and pure, of a free nation. They were their under their own sovereign will. All of those faces suffused with hope and I could only feel a profound empathy for them and also, I must admit, a green envy for the enormous abyss that Cubans still must cross before we can feel the magic of those two forces: freedom and hope. Certainly Obama faces a rough road, a huge responsibility, and it is my humble vote that he will succeed in an endeavor whose results have repercussions throughout the world.
I’m convinced that Cuba will not be one of the priorities of the new president of the United States, however, the sepulchral silence of the Cuban press after the November 4th election is the most eloquent proof of the danger Obama represents to the politics of confrontation that the government of the Island has cultivated so carefully for nearly half a century. The young president’s recent declarations about the closure of the Guantanamo prison was a first blunt blow to the face of the Cuban dictatorship; hopefully in the near future he will continue to shake the myth of David vs. Goliath. If so, Obama would constitute—among many other promising things for us—a species of termite who, in a short time, would destroy the anachronistic Roundtable [Mesa Redonda], digesting, along the way, all of its pathetic guests.
Mesa Redonda/Roundtable is a Cuban television talk show on which Fidel was the ‘leading host’.
It is possible that Cubans who have never traveled outside of Cuba or those who don’t have a “traveling” relative or reside in a foreign county have no idea of how “up hill” it can be, not only to return to the motherland, but to trespass the limits of the territory whose corners have been marked with the sacred urine of the Customs’ employees, a specimen representative of a Cuban’s worst enemy: another empowered Cuban, even if those powers are transitory and borrowed and turn a perfect stranger into an occasional executioner.
When a Cuban returns to the country, whether he is an emancipated slave (an émigré) or one of the permanent members of the slave crews (residents of the Island) he knows that before he can happily reunite with his family, he has to sort out the customs doghouse. Of course, there are customs controls in all the world’s airports, it’s logical. But ours is truly its own genus. To start, although you have already paid overweight baggage charges when boarding in the country of origin, here—inexplicably—you must pay again. Additional vexations start later.
In the sort of Ali Baba cave which is the Cuban customs, through which arriving foreign visitors can cross peacefully and easily, carrying any amount of baggage, Cubans are subjected, without the least consideration, to having their baggage opened, which customs employees search, without blushing, eager to find any “overweight” or “excess” items in order to proceed to the decommissioning, that is, to expropriate for themselves whatever is “too much” in the victim’s suitcase. “Decommissioned” items can be anything from an electrical appliance or a computer to underwear, shavers or cosmetics. Everything is “established and quantified.” For instance, there is a decree that establishes that a Cuban can only bring in 8 units of each product, so if you are Cuban and decide to pack 9 pairs of underpants, you should be ready to have one pair decommissioned when you go through customs.
In spite of all this, this sort of officially sanctioned robbery is the most tolerable. The real denigration is the abuse, the arrogance and the unbearable rudeness with which—as a general rule—customs employees treat you. There, they are the highest authority, the super overseers who decide which personal effects or presents you are bringing for your relatives will cross over the mysterious line that separates slaves and arriving emancipated slaves from those who wait anxiously at the plantation. Unfortunately, there are Cubans who are ready to bribe the customs official with some little present so that he “allows the rest to go through.”
The customs scrutiny can extend for an indefinite length of time, always measured in hours, depending on baggage volume, the interests and needs of the customs employees and on the number of Cubans arriving on said flight. I have heard the anecdote about a woman whose huge case of cosmetics meant for her niece, who was turning 15, was decommissioned, another who was deprived of her hair dryer, one whose daughter’s very expensive perfume was taken from her suitcase without the least consideration. The list of anecdotes is huge, but the systematic robbery continues. And I think that it goes on because, deep inside, we allow it. A Cuban woman was telling me that last year they decommissioned her computer and… what could she do? Well, she could wreck it before allowing them to grab it from her in that way, meekly.
As for me, when I was returning from Chile towards the end of 2000, I was bringing back, of course, three bottles of very good wine to celebrate Christmas Eve with my family. A customs employee started to quibble (he, too, wanted to uncork a good red Chilean at his table) and started to call into question whether I could only bring in 2 bottles. “OK, I said, give me a minute to decide which one of the three I am going to empty down the sink right now.” They let me go through with all my precious wines. So we’ll have to see definitely to what point they make us victims in this country and how far we really allow it: they have the power, true, but we should be ashamed.
The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, is in Cuba. The eight photographs about the visit that appear in yesterday’s (November 19) Granma newspaper are proof of our government’s determination to congratulate itself for its powerful creditor. For the occasion, they even carefully dusted and made-up the national mummy, who surely demanded to be photographed with the Asian. Three pages of one of the leanest newspapers in the world are dedicated to the praises and rituals surrounding the presence of the head of state, something that hasn’t occurred during recent visits by other presidents friendly to the Castros, such as the Brazilian Lula, for example. They, clearly, they are not as important as the son… of the Celestial Empire.
But, since this page is ours, not Granma’s, I will only be concerned with certain apparently minor details related to the “important accords” signed following the official conversation: extending the grace period (until the year 2018) granted for the payment of the balance of the commercial imbalance accumulated since 1994-95, and the deferment of the Chinese Government Credit granted in 1998—factors which increase our national debt to that country—as well as the Credit Agreement for the Reparation and Reconstruction of Cuba’s hospital network, for 70 million dollars. And this last one is what caught my attention the most: 70 million is an absolutely miserly figure if it is going to be spent on the reparation and reconstruction of a hospital network that is just about ruined. And that’s without counting the cost of the basic medical equipment and all of the technology that, one supposes, also needs to be renovated. I’ve been thinking about all of this and have arrived at the conclusion that the Cuban people won’t really see any benefit: simply building a center for the rehabilitation and physical therapy of the knees of our many leaders who have thrown themselves down in reverence to Hu Jintao would consume almost half of that money.