One of the great punishments that Cubans have to suffer is our having to deal with any type of legal matter. I have no doubt that in other countries the legal systems are also intricate, but in ours we possess —in addition to the sadly celebrated bureaucrat, in charge putting the brakes on whatever kind of paperwork— we also have a figure that successfully emulates that role: the notary.
A few days ago I received a long letter from my mother in my hometown of Santiago de Cuba. In the correspondence she told me about the progress made in transferring the title of our house into our name, since currently it’s in the name of my deceased grandmother.
The fragment concerning the matter is so illustrative that it needs no other comment. My mother wrote:
“I’m involved in the adjudicatory steps of transferring the property: papers and more papers. I’m confronted with all types of problems: stamps that suddenly run out at the post office (which is understandable, since even to put the name of another person in your ration book you need a stamp that costs five pesos); or the long lines of people on the verge of hysteria (I understand them completely).
“What’s more, there are only ten daily appointments made in each notary office in the city, where it’s supposed that five or six notaries work for around eight hours with their respective secretarial staffs. And to make matters worse, these notaries take more than an hour before calling their first client, which in this case turned out to be me since I spent the dawn sitting on his office doorstep. He then begins to inspect your papers, with the face of a colonel in the SS.
“There begins a silent duel of stares, with the notary ‘analyzing’ the documents that he requested from you. From time to time he’ll look up at you and then return to his analysis. With each look he gives you the impression you’ve committed some crime, but you can only turn to look at the horrible painting that ‘adorns’ his wall and then look back at him, yourself filled with anxiety. You try to figure out what he’s thinking, what he’ll say and what could be wrong in the official documents – all properly signed and stamped as well as registered with volume and page number by the law office that issued them.
“The duel ends (with you’re being the one shot). Radiant with joy, the notary exclaims, ‘Everything’s fine, but now it seems you’re missing…’ At that one moment you understand that there was a reason the Beatles made that song you like so much: ‘The Long and Winding Road.’
“Your efforts have been thwarted, so it will be necessary to try yet again, to get up early another time (after sleeping poorly), to deal with more lines and their representatives, to wait for the notary to finish what they need to do before beginning their ‘work day.’
“And if that weren’t enough, you go to that next appointment with the certainty something else will be lacking. If you make one step forward, you have to take two steps backwards, because this is how ‘legal’ matters are in our country.”