Fifth Month of the Year

Photo: El Toque

By Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – We’re in May 2023. In Boston, Time is a wild goose that spruces itself up on the shore of the Charles River; a goose that flies and can leave. In Havana, Time sleeps in living rooms, in rooftop makeshift quarters and cooks over low heat. In one ear, the sound of fans stops us from hearing ourselves say “we can’t take anymore”; and in the other, mosquitos sing their loud lullaby.

Fifth month of the year and nothing’s happening, nothing’s happened. Cuba is doomed to sink, to sea surges, hurricanes, buildings collapsing, fires and blackouts.

Fifth month of the year and the jails are full of political prisoners. The country’s leaders haven’t even listened to the Pope. Time in the Palacio de la Revolucion passes as slowly as it does in dilapidated tenements and makeshift housing, but they don’t have fans or mosquitoes.

Cuba isn’t going anywhere. There isn’t any fuel, but we don’t need it if the country is stuck in the same place. “The same place” doesn’t exist in politics. Nor does it exist in the development of human life. People die in Cuba, just like they do anywhere else, but they seem to first die of sadness because they grow old without safeguards.

Everything flows, old Heraclitus said. Even though we’re only left with fragments of his verses, it’s likely that the verse went something like this: “everything flows except in Cuba; there, you bathe twice in the water of the same river.”

Cuba is floating in a pond. We don’t drift. In reality, we hit the sides of the washing-up bowl of stagnant water the Government has put us in with our boat of reeds. We invent a journey, but it’s more of a shipwreck.

Politics don’t flow either. In Cuba, the tension of a bow and arrow doesn’t launch anything, the contradiction of opposites doesn’t bring about change, arrows strike the poor in the chest, war isn’t more productive than peace, we don’t gain anything from this fight. People want to live, curl up in bed and sleep a little, and enjoy the breeze that won’t last long.

No foreign government cares about the Cuban people; and yet, we exist. We are real people. We aren’t figures for academic graphs where light purple shows how we’ve managed to hang in there with barely any money, barely any freedom, barely any happiness; and the pale orange line shows our resilience. Resilience abroad is what people want, and that’s OK, it’s important. I’m not going to joke about it.

Nor are we of interest to the Cuban leaders. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand how a government can lose interest in the people it represents. I don’t know whether it’s a matter of the Cuban Government being interested in us at one point and then they got tired of this; focusing on their business, establishing themselves in power and forgetting about social work, investments in hospitals and schools.

We can feel this neglect now. We went from paternalism to having an irresponsible father. Before, the State treated us like children, alieni juris before its power. Then, we were told we should be entrepreneurs. Some set up a business and failed. Others filled their pockets because they understood how to profit off a State without Rule of Law.

Some believed they could start out in politics. We didn’t watch this class on the Universidad para todas (University for Everyone) TV show, and we missed out. It’s likely there’s a subject called: “Setting up a business isn’t protesting,” but we didn’t go to school on that day, and we didn’t ask for a classmate’s notes either. The people who thought that setting up a business could also mean demanding or crying out for help are prisoners for sedition, have been fired from their jobs, are under surveillance in their homes, prevented from traveling abroad, or exiled after being persecuted.

The State has abandoned us after forcing us to depend upon it. We can call this – affectionately and through bare teeth – totalitarianism, authoritarianism, dictatorship or whatever you fancy. An abusive State can take many names. It always delivers the beating, it always imposes jail, it is the only one that can decree banishment, it chooses to be indifferent to hunger. Every title fits it perfectly.

Abusers are fought with intelligence. They know we can’t escape from them so easily. They know we learned to respect them and then to fear them, like Machiavelli used to teach. Now, we are convinced we have to leave or dethrone them. We are really afraid because we’ve never made important decisions, they made every decision for us. We also feel this weight on our chests like it’s impossible to go on as we are. This impulse could be called Justice.

Thousands of Cubans are escaping state abuse. Exile is resistance, and at the end of the day, this is our revenge. You abandon us, we abandon you. But we also abandon ourselves in exile, and it’s not a victory we get to enjoy. At least it’s movement. It’s escaping this washing-up bowl of stagnant water.

How do the Cubans who don’t escape live? It’s hard to know exactly. There is no magic Coca-Cola you can drink to forget everything, that’s a myth. What you do have is a different way of perceiving Time in Barcelona, Mexico, Miami, Boston, Havana, Cardenas, Santiago de Cuba. I don’t know if they’re in May in Cuba. I have my doubts. Long lines to buy gasoline, the struggle to bear the heat on hot humid nights and long walks to find some food draw out Time. Clocks drip down from balconies. Poor Dali becomes a painter of common landscapes in our eyes.

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