The Tragic Problem of Repression in Cuba

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

By Eduardo N. Cordovi Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES – As I have mentioned on a previous page of my Diary, like almost everyone, I am fortunate to have a selection of friends, childhood buddies who live in the closest geography of the neighborhood. We often gather regularly, just like going to church to receive “our daily bread.”

Yes, literally, going to the bakery to get the only bread roll received through a bureaucratic procedure, legally speaking and not pejoratively, because the matter is to leave a documentary record of the receipt to the consumer through the well-known Libreta de Abastecimientos (ration booklet) and of the sale, recorded in a control book known as “Torpedo,” a somewhat warlike name whose origin would be worth investigating philologically, linguistically, or anthropologically, because folkloric it does not seem.

The point is that we gather anywhere, like a traveling church, as if it were a nomadic Club. If two of us happen to meet during the “bread route,” as I said, we sit on the short steps of the pharmacy, and there the group forms. The term “steps” is a loving hyperbole because there are only three steps that bridge the height from the sidewalk to the portal that precedes the counter, a place where long ago – that time for me is at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, when I was leaving the innocence of childhood and preparing to become a teenager – they sold many things that were not medicines.

We bought them without prescriptions, without standing in line, and without being expensive: we bought fruit salts to make soft drinks, crystallized menthol to flavor cigarettes, inks of various colors to write with fountain pens. When I was in the sixth grade, I had an Esterbrook with a gold nib, which I refilled with red ink to write like the Roman emperors, but I remember there was black, blue, and green ink as well.

They also sold new comic magazines, called Tebeos in Spain and Muñequitos in Cuba – my first contact with Literature – but the Reader’s Digest Selections, also sold there, were my first serious encounter. Times change. Pharmacies no longer sell any of these things – there were many more – unrelated to medications, and in fact, today, there are practically no medicines either. Well, not quite! Just not the ones you need. In fact, many pharmacies no longer have night shifts.

We also gather at the corner of the ration store, even if there’s nothing to buy; there’s no staircase there, but there is the wide step of the portal in the shade, or at the door of someone’s house. In short, even without a quorum, we gather anywhere, sitting, standing, and we talk about anything: gossip, present projects to fix the world, criticize anyone, or complain about the life we have to live, the prices, the wars, the US presidents, communism, how bad TV programming is, how young people and even the old are leaving the country. Broadly speaking, that is the “agenda” of our assemblies.

The current stampede is like Pi, a constant. Yesterday they were talking about that when I arrived. I stayed for a while, limited myself to listening, and suddenly remembered the book I am reading: “If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules” by Cherie Carter-Scott. Actually, rule number six came to mind: “There is no better place than here.” I was about to make a comment because it’s paradoxical, curious, contrary; in short, to say something different, break the routine, almost just to be playful with innocent mischief, without any other pretension of pontificating or going against the grain, debating or being the one who brings the apple of discord. Really! But, thank God, I restrained myself.

“There is no better place than here” is a phrase that can be as dangerous and subversive as shouting “Down with communism!” on May Day during a public rally in Revolution Square. The tragedy is that it won’t be the State Security officers, or government sympathizers or representatives who will repress you; quite the opposite, you will put yourself in the crosshairs of your friends, and nothing can be worse. You will put a label on yourself as a system supporter, and no one will inform you when the chicken arrives, or when they are selling coffee, or when they bring the eggs… The problem is that we only believe that repression is what the government exerts, and that one can only be subversive in one direction.

Many times, like in this case, when people don’t understand that you are offering them a new angle to assess the circumstances, a different point of view to evaluate reality, they consider you a weirdo, a destabilizer, they feel offended, attacked. They become afraid of you, just as those who form the State do: they feel that their ground is being shaken, and that can cause dizziness, it feels like they are being toppled.

If you read this far and laughed a little: Good! If you read this far and nostalgically remembered a bit of the past: Good! But I wrote this article to invite you to read a book. And maybe, you will also understand that: “There is no better place than here.” I assure you: It’s worth it.

Read more from the diary of Eduardo N. Cordovi here.

Eduardo N. Cordovi

I was born and live in Lawton, Havana, on October 29, 1950. A potter, painter and woodcarver. I have published in newspapers and magazines in the country and in the Peruvian magazine with continental circulation Menú Journal. Editorial Oriente published my book, Bebidas notables in 1989, also published by along with my novel Conspiracy in Havana.

One thought on “The Tragic Problem of Repression in Cuba

  • The government of Cuba is stuck in a 19th century time-warp/ They know nothing else, Although the multitude of self-evident problems lie exposed to all, change of political policy is impossible. Like the dinosaurs, only a catastrophe and their elimination from control and power, will bring a brighter future for the long suffering Cuban people. The current reality driven by stupidity and ignorance is there for all to behold.

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