Like Crossing Niagara Falls on a Bicycle

Dariela Aquique

Foto: Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — A highly popular song by the Dominican ensemble Juan Luis Guerra y la 440, titled “El Niagara en bicicleta” (“Like Crossing Niagara Falls on a Bicycle”), pokes fun at the Dominican Republic’s public health system.

The song’s refrain, “easy, Bobby, easy”, depicts how one of the nurses at a hospital addresses a patient so that they will not become agitated or angry.

This song and an article I wrote for Cubaencuentro last year will be my point of departure for an anecdote about the bureaucratic madness I recently endured.

I will begin by quoting my article:

Placebos are substances that have no real healing properties, but which produce a psychological effect that leads to an improvement in the health of the person who consumes them (…) We Cubans are more than familiar with the placebo effect, not so much in relation to personal health, but in connection to social ills. Many (…) believe they are immune to or have been cured of many afflictions arising from the curtailment of our most basic civil prerogatives.

The new laws recently passed in Cuba met with considerable enthusiasm. Article 81 of the Housing Law (Ley de la Vivienda) affords individuals the right to transfer ownership of their properties to blood relatives who may be separated from them by up to four degrees, regardless of whether these individuals have left the country (legally or not), and to do so definitively.

Nearly three years ago, my brother illegally left the country and currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky, in the United States.

After the abovementioned Law was passed, we began the legal process to reclaim, for my aunt, the property that my brother had left behind.

Much was said in the press about the swiftness of said legal processes, which would supposedly meet with as little red tape as possible.

Upon arriving at the Notary office, we were informed that this type of application had to be filled out at the Municipal Vice-Secretariat for Housing. Once there, we were told that we needed to approach the Civil Registry and request copies of the birth certificates which confirm the blood relationship between the person claiming the property and its former owner.

Then, we would need to go to the Housing Bureau for our district and request an application conceived specifically to correct property titles, which, in turn, requires that you be in possession of an up-to-date valuation of the property in question, issued only by the District Urban Planning Office.

You also need a writ, prepared by the Immigration Office, which certifies that the former owner of the house resides abroad.

Since my brother left the country illegally, the case enters a whole other bureaucratic dimension: you need to send a letter to the above office, which will not be answered until a full investigation by the pertinent Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) has been conducted, and until a State Security Unit assigned to these kinds of cases gives this investigation a seal of approval.

Then, one must submit the death certificates of the first-degree relatives, or photocopies of their property titles, should they still be alive.

The Immigration Office then sends the Identification Card Office an instruction to cancel the pertinent identification document. This office proceeds to forward the Food Distribution Control Bureau (Oficina de Control de Distribución Alimentaria, OFICODA) a request to remove the individual in question from the ration card assigned to the household. This entails the termination of all utility contracts (gas, electricity and water), and the official updating of all related records.

The Housing Bureau confiscates and is in control of the property until the conclusion of this juridical process, which culminates with the issuing of a new property title, which requires a statement for tax purposes, to be filled out at the National Tax Administration Bureau (ONAT).

Finally, you have to register the new title at the Property Registry Office. All of this, of course, after you have proven that the person claiming the property has lived there for at least five years. If that is not the case, this entire process would be less than felicitous, to say the least.

I will spare my readers the crushing details of each of these legal processes. The one thing I will say is that one has the sense of trying to cross Niagara Falls on a bicycle.

And that you can be sure to come across a receptionist, secretary or lawyer who, sensing your growing despair, will calmly say to you, as though repeating the song’s refrain: “easy, love, easy”.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.