The New Cuban Habit of “Offering Apologies”

Dmitri Prieto

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HAVANA TIMES — I recently received the following text message in my mobile phone: “To all users: Work on ETECSA’s cellular phone network will be conducted in the early morning of September 3. We offer apologies for any difficulties you may experience at that time.”

To “offer apologies” is becoming a common practice in Cuba. The phrase is being used more and more on television, for instance, when the broadcast is interrupted, the image freezes or sounds become distorted suddenly (if one’s lucky, that is, for such things sometimes happen and we receive absolutely no apologies).

Apologies, however, aren’t offered – they are asked for. To ask for someone’s forgiveness is a gesture of humility that stems from our awareness that we have done something wrong.

And the person affected by one’s misdeed is the one who should decide whether to accept the apology or not.

To “offer” and to “ask for” something are actually antonyms.

The act of apologizing, anthropologically speaking, is a transaction.

This business of “offering apologies” reveals that the offerer remains in the dark place of absolute power, a place of power that remains intact before the gesture of apologizing, whose false humility leaves the asymmetrical social relationship of the system untouched and keeps the guilty party in a position where they are potentially capable of continuing to cause damage.

This affects those who do not have the power to bring about an immediate change in the way things are, people who are not even recognized as the legitimate receivers of an apology.

This validates the continuation of a neglect for the most basic human dignity, turning those who “offer apologies” into mere cogs in an impersonal and soulless machine.

It is a sad symptom of the status quo likely to be reproduced by children and teenagers, already unaccustomed to such petitions at home and out on the street.

Without that elementary transaction that an apology is, we lose one of the essential prerogatives due to us, and leave contemporary Cuban society a parody of a “social contract” in which words lose the power to convey ideas clearly and become instruments of darkness.

Yet another detail that reveals how un-empowered and melancholy our lives have become today.