Even if They Discover Oil in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 20 — Saturday morning I woke up as fresh as a daisy and ready for spiritual solace, but there was no gas for cooking.

According to the ration book, we still had an allocation, so I found myself with no excuse to keep me from heading out for the tank refill center here in the Alamar neighborhood.

There, a handful of community “errand boys” (though mostly old men) would be hanging around from the crack of dawn. The word had it, though, that there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left, not enough for everyone.

The line was very long so I bought a newspaper with the intention of reading it. I leaned against a wall with the intention of reading, but my fellow neighbors in line started talking, compelling me to join in.

The woman behind me had a son working in Angola – where he owned a car and a home, had a good paying job and the chance to settle down there. As she said: “It’s rough, living here in Cuba, but I wouldn’t think of going to Africa, even if I was dead. Plus, we have more than enough blacks here in Alamar,” gesturing around her with contempt.

Ahead of me was a part-time and part-crazy doctor, though he doesn’t really practice his profession anymore. He told me that from his house fronting the sea, he could see the new oil rig that showed up recently to explore for crude off the coast of the island.

In the same breathe he told me about friends of his who in 1994 headed out to sea on rafts, though he never found out what happened to most of them.

The sun had begun to burn, as the smokers thinned the atmosphere even more. The old guys were tired and by that time starting to get upset and anxious.

What flourishes in Alamar are food stands, garages, iron fences and improvised housing attached to buildings – all constructed in public spaces and with materials “borrowed” from public works projects.

But in the public space where the line for gas refills is situated, there’s no shelter or shade from the sun. There aren’t even benches for making the wait even halfway comfortable.

When it struck 11:00 a.m., the level of concern was growing fast. The woman with the son in Angola was blaming it all on racism, while the “physician” was becoming increasingly incoherent (at least from my point of view).

By this time there was a whole crowd of people waiting, though the line was at a standstill. Those people who make their living by selling places in line were hard at work. Others were letting their buddies cut in, and even the guy who dispenses the gas was prioritizing his “private” customers.

By noon the atmosphere was tense. I knew that the gas wasn’t going hold out long enough for me, but I stayed around anyway just to witness the outcome.

In front of me people were arguing, screaming threatening, flailing their arms, growling and showing their fangs (some of them gold), anything but protesting as a group against the cut-ins.

In situations like these, it’s always the most aggressive people who win. An old man complained but he found himself elbowed out of the way like an old shoe.

I was at the point of jumping in and probably receiving a blow, but I didn’t and the old man was terrified and humiliated.

The gas eventually ran out and, without saying bye to the other residents in line, I made a 180 degree turn and headed back home with my tail between my legs.

At home we can get by with our electric cooker, but I started thinking that this country is hopeless (whether they discover oil or not with the oil rig), and I cranked out this pessimistic post.

PS: On Monday I was able to get our gas in five minutes. What’s more, the “doctor” and the old man (for who I almost humiliated myself in front of) walked passed and didn’t even recognize me.


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

5 thoughts on “Even if They Discover Oil in Cuba

  • Thank you for your article Erasmo. Just this morning I was listening to the audiobook of George Orwell’s “1984” and I swear reading you is like listening to Winston think to himself about the slum-like condition of the Proles (the lower class “proletariats” who make up 85% of the population) and his own gray existence where four cigarettes, two (hidden) razor blades, and a ration of gin is all he has to look forward to.

    Here he is writing in his secret journal about the proles. It moves from hope to a kind to futility after remembering an incident similar to the one you recounted above:

    If there was hope, it MUST like in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses, 85 per cent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated. The Party could not be overthrown from within. Its enemies, if it had any enemies, had no way of coming together or even of identifying one another. Even if the legendary Brotherhood existed, as just possibly it might, it was inconceivable that its members could ever assemble in larger numbers than twos or threes. Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflexion of the voice, at the most, an occasional whispered word. But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet -!

    He remembered how once he had been walking down a croded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices women’s voices – had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep loud ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started! he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been the doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! What was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

    He wrote:

    Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

  • A very astute observation. With or without the embargo, the military dictatorship would have behaved no differently; except that perhaps it would have had more money to finance murdering more people in Central and South America and elsewhere.

  • Socialism? Not exactly. All of Cuba`s profitable industry is run by members of Cuba`s military, not elite beurocrats. Cuba is a banana republic military dictatorship. Too bad the revolution is dead; it is likely very difficult for people to get a coveted position in the military now……………

  • Here’s my theory: Based upon the fact that Cuba does not lack for fish, lobster and even crab harvests yet all of the above are in scarce supply for Cubans on the island and when available it is usually very expensive and sold on the “mercado negro”. The same anomaly applies to fruit, coffee, and other otherwise logically available produce for a caribbean island. Why? Because the Cuban government, in its desperate effort to accumulate hard currency, sells these natural island products abroad as opposed to making them available for Cuban consumption. I believe that the same thing will happen if oil is discovered. Especially if world prices climb as is expected. Cuba has a track record of imposing more suffering on the Cuban people. As long as the embargo continues, everything that is wrong and lacking in Cuba can be blamed on the embargo. Cuban oil with go the way of Cuban lobster.

  • Good but depressing article, Erasmo. I hope that “hopeless” does not truly describe Cuban state monopoly ownership socialism.

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