As Cuba Mutates, I’m the Misfit

Irina Echarry

Collective taxi in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Every time I have to go and get a document sorted out, no matter what it is for, I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of displeasure. And not just because of the time lost that almost always goes hand-in-hand with our trips to government offices, or the problems you have to deal with when you want to get a document or an appointment, or because I have to stop doing all the important things I’d planned to do. No. It’s because I know that I will be a victim of abusive treatment.

Whether it’s at the Registry Office, OFICODA (the Government’s rationing offices), or Airport Customs; hospitals or immigration offices where you have to go to get a passport and ID card made; but also at bakeries, stores, police stations, and even embassies.

Maltreatment, in all its forms, reigns wherever you go. It would seem that you need a special requirement to be behind a desk or a counter, at the wheel of a bus, or in front of a classroom: to have graduated from the Cuban school of maltreatment. This school doesn’t exist in a specific place but stretches far and wide across the country.

The most common response when people complain is: we’re in Cuba, as if that were enough for us to accept any disaster. Sometimes, it’s gestures, shouting, bitter facial expressions. Other times, it’s different forms of affection, they feel so close to you that they treat you the same way they would an old friend or a cousin. So, they call you mami, madrina (godmother), tia (aunt); they leave you waiting while they check their phone in working hours, or they tell you off if you do something you shouldn’t, even though they’ve never warned you before.

Swear words are commonplace, but beyond this foul language, which brings the blood to my cheeks, it’s the general environment that really scares me, the prevalence of cocky and aggressive attitudes and, especially, how far removed I feel. I always end up wondering why I reject this if I am the result of the same experiment.

I have suffered the ups and downs of a political system that has stunted our ability to reflect, to look within and to cast a critical gaze on our environment. I suffered the slow and progressive impoverishment of Cuban society that isolated Cubans, transforming us into a defenseless mass, unaware of its own strength, emotionally (and materialisticly) dependent on a paternalistic and authoritarian government.   

I have seen how we have lost our civic memory with my own two eyes: neither the authorities nor the Cuban people remember how-to live-in society. I have seen the unstoppable advance and colonization of impoliteness, imposing itself wherever it wants, and people become used to this style, putting their own spin on it, reaffirming it.

Last but not least, I have experienced the boom of this contagious beat (not only because of its monotonous melody) reggaeton, which has made the most of the breeding ground it’s found in Cuba and has multiplied like purslane, resulting in a more demented, less political, more hedonistic, ruder people.

I have seen all of this with my own two eyes, yet, I still haven’t been able to capture its essence, to incorporate it into my own everyday life. If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t understand what’s going on with me… Why would I be so dumb?

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.



23 thoughts on “As Cuba Mutates, I’m the Misfit

  • The last time I was sitting waiting in our local MININT office to “refresh” my visa beyond three months, I had plenty of time to study and count the photographs of Fidel Castro and other subjects of the cult of the personality (Raul, Hugo and Che). In total I counted forty seven (47) photographs of Fidel. Only two of Raul (but one of he with brother Fidel being the largest) three of Hugo and six of Che. Being MININT, there was air-conditioning – it would never do to have sweat marks spoiling those green uniforms, but even although it was pretty claustrophobic with large numbers occupying the chairs, leaning on walls and some waiting outside, Cubans have developed great patience as waiting whether it be at the MININT office, the panderia for bread or any of the TRD, Cimex and Pan Americana half empty shops. (that latter comment does not imply that the shops are half-full).

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  • I feel your pain. Every form of government has its problems. The Cuban government is special in the problem department. Repression of the people keeps the government in control. If your on the inside you might have an easier life but no friends. Corruption reinstates through the whole system. Where do you find freedom in Cuba. Its hidden in the hearts of the people looking outside of Cuba just waiting for a chance to escape. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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  • I lived in Havana for 3 months as a Westerner. I was shocked how arrogant and rude the staff was at every “official” business I had to deal with. I’ve been made waiting in the blistering sun for hours was with dozens of Cubans outside (!) the offices of the MININT, banks and of course the worst company in the world: ETECSA. I was always amazed that the only one complaining to the staff that was polishing their nails, playing with their cellphones and so on was me. I always wondered what happened to the Cubans pride, being humiliated every day. Not a single business in Cuba would survive one day in a capitalist country. Not one.

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    • The truth is Martin that nobody cares, Initiative and drive have been eradicated by the system which denies individuality. In my experience Cubans have no pride in the system, but are resigned to it, for they have no other and there is no competition providing service. I am in 95% (my barber is quite good) agreement with your ultimate statement and ETECSA is an excellent example of rank incompetence. But as a monopoly owned 73% by the state and 27% by RAFIN SA, it can get away with lousy service, high prices and leaving customers to wait outside in the heat whilst having air conditioning in the interior – done in the name of “security”. Meantime, Raul having been the guest of a French Socialist President at the Elysee Palace, has shown appreciation by ETECSA using Peugeot vans as service vehicles rather than the cheap junky Chinese Geely’s favoured by GAESA.
      As for pride, Cubans know that the system is incompetent and as a consequence comment: “Es Cuba”.

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      • I have suffered some of this same trying to get paperwork. But been from la Yuma I just give some help and skip most of the line or have help from a connection. Which shows how corrupt the Cuba system is. I’m la Yuma I would never imagine pay off someone and I sit in air conditioning

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      • Yeah, but if everybody accepts this with the argument “Es Cuba”, nothing is gonna change. The Cubans should stop acting like sheep and punch one of the assholes at the door of the ETECSA offices on the nose or burn one down. Starting with the one on 3rd Avenida. That’s what happens in civilized countries with people who tread the people who pay their salaries like that. We have a saying over here: ” He who doesn’t listen, has to feel”. I am sorry to say this: but a people who accept to be treaded like slaves deserve no better. So I really appreciate the Cubans who post here on Havana Times.

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        • “accept to be treated like slaves” I agree Martin that there is little difference in Cuba for many since the days of slavery. Successful slave owners knew that it they relaxed their severe forms of discipline, the slaves might revolt. The same view is held by the Castro regime and it doesn’t relax.
          How would you manage to change the system if you were a Cuban? Punching one of those “assholes” – supposed security – at the door ot the ETECSA office would land you in jail – immediately! As for burning one of the ETECSA offices down, I think you will find its made of concrete.
          Reference to civilized countries is irrelevant, this is Cuba!
          You may recall a Cuban who rebelled by painting graffiti on the walls in Havana and by releasing a couple of pigs with the words Fidel and Raul painted on them. He was jailed repeatedly. So where is El Sexto – Danilo – now? San Francisco!
          I recall only too well, the methods of the Russians in Vienna, and Raul Castro took instruction from them commencing in April 1953. His KGB buddy Nikolai S. Leonov subsequently arrived in Mexico City to assist and advise when the Castros were busy planning return to Cuba and following the success of the revolution, became the KGB’s man in Havana. Similarly Alejandro Raul’s son had tutelage in Moscow from KGB successors, prior to returning to Cuba to operate both internal (CDR) and external (example the “Cuban Five”) spying services along with the MININT goons*.
          The odds are stacked very highly against anyone who would seek to overturn the communist dictatorship of Cuba.
          *goon: a bully or thug especially of an armed or security force Oxford English Dictionary

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          • Every revolution comes with sacrifices of the brave. Even the Cuban Revolution came with sacrifices and as much I dislike the Castro’s I respect their suicide mission onboard the Granma where chances that they would fail and be killed or at least being tortured and jailed were sky high. None of this happens in Cuba. Not a single stone is thrown. Except maybe for North Korea every dictatorship faces resistance. That was even the case in Nazi Germany. Never a single strike in Cuba. Never a clear massive protest. All they do is drown in in self-pity, drinking and hanging around. What do they expect? A miracle? For starters, they could demand at least a decent and respectful treatment from those who are paid by them to serve the people.

  • I can’t see Cuba changing much in the political department in the near future despite how pathetically bad the communist regime is.
    Venezuela is an absolute disaster/humanitarian crisis yet the dictatorship there clings on through corruption and mass oppression.
    So apathy persists and affects virtually everything on the island.
    Like 20 years ago when people said change was coming to Cuba.
    Couldn’t see it then and don’t see it now.

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  • Martin, you still do not grasp the strength of the Castro communist system. They have studied and learned from the various uprisings that there have been against other communist regimes. They learned from the Hungarian uprising of Hungary in 1956, they learned from the Czechoslovakian uprising of 1968 and they learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union following Gorbachev introducing more liberal policies. That is why they have more people under arms than the second largest country in the world, Canada, with in addition a multitude of MININT goons roaming the streets and checking upon the reports made by the CDR upon every adult citizen, every year.
    When speaking of Granma, are you aware that when following that landing there was a skirmish in a sugar plantation between Batista’s military and the Castro group resulting in only fourteen (14) surviving – strangely including both Castros and Guevara (were they leading from behind?
    You dismiss the efforts of El Sexto and others by saying “not a stone was thrown”. As I have previously written, Cuba although claiming (and I think correctly) that it has a very low crime rate, has the fourth highest level of incarceration in the world – who do you think is in jail, if not the dissidents?
    Your comment that: “For starters, they could demand at least a decent and respectful treatment from those who are paid to serve the people.” demonstrates an innocence of the reality that would be humorous were it not so serious. The concept that the members of the puppet Poder Popular are there to serve the people reinforces that view. Every single member of the Poder Popular is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba – to which only 7% of the population belong.
    How and why would the only workers union which is an integral part of the PCC initiate a strike against itself? Protest is illegal! Only one political party is permitted!
    It is obvious that you have spent your life in the freedom of the capitalist world as your views reflect just that. To expect “decent and respectful treatment” from a totalitarian regime runs contrary to both history and the purposes of such regimes. I end by quoting Fidel Castro’s critical comment about those leading the uprising led by Alexander Dubcek and following the Russian tanks rolling into Prague in 1968 to quell it:
    “Certain measures were taken such as the establishment of a bourgeois form of freedom of the press. This means the counterrevolution and the exploiters, the very enemies of socialism, were granted the right to speak and write freely against socialism.”

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    • You use a lot of words and speak with a lot of disdain while trying to show off your Wikipedia knowledge. Not only in this topic but all over HT. History is full of tales of succesfull uprising against authoritarian regimes. All your babbling about Hungaria, what Castro once said, El Sexto and so on doesnt change that. But while you were writing all your nacist bullshit at least the LGBT scene took on the streets of Havana. Illegally!

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      • I do not use Wikipedia at all, but guess that you may find it a source of (much of it being inaccurate) information. I only speak from personal knowledge. If that factual knowledge offends you, so be it. I know Cuba, the political system and its people. You Martin somewhat obviously don’t. As for LGBT, Raul Castro’s daughter Deborah who in addition to her involvement in LGBT, is a Member of the Poder Popular, ensures that they are protected from the MININT goons – which are controlled by her brother Alejandro.
        I have obviously made the mistake of thinking that you actually were interested in the Cuban people and why they don’t take to the streets in some form of uprising. My mistake was in not treating you with disdain.

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        • Apperently you think you are the only one here who knows Cuba from the inside Bad mistake as I know Cuba, its history, people, system very, very well. And I lived there. You are just babbling from your ivory tower of selfproclaimed knowledge.

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          • My “ivory tower” which is ‘mi hogar’ is in Cuba, am married to a Cuban and am related to 67 other Cubans. If you think my knowledge is “self-proclaimed”, do please explain any factual errors! There are several others who contribute to this site who know Cuba well because they have family there. When Cuba Lifting the Veil was published back in 2016, one of them – Moses Patterson – challenged fellow travelling critics to point out any factual errors they could find in the book. To date none!
            Both you and I are critics of the totalitarian regime, where we differ is upon our views of the oppressed people of Cuba.
            Because I live in Cuba (no where near Havana) my access to the Internet is confined to when I am elsewhere, be it in my native Scotland or in Canada. So you will be relieved to know that you won’t have to suffer my contributions throughout the year. But Martin although you dislike well qualified opinions contrary to your own about the plight of Cubans and the severe restrictions which make an internal revolution virtually impossible – for reasons I have explained, there is no need to endeavor to insult, rather explain how it is possible for Cubans to create an uprising?

  • Glad to read that the identified LGBT community were able to make themselves known as being validated as human beings were able to access the streets. When I was there eight years ago we had two members in our group that wanted to know where the LGBT night club was in Havana. The tour guide had to tell them that the one club was near our hotel. They were able to access the place and had an enjoyable evening. They were glad that they had gone to meet others and experience the Cuban night life. Thanks for sharing the article.

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  • @Carlyle For starters: Stop advertising your book and chest-thumping yourself. I have visited 27 dictatorships, police- and maffia states over the last 25 years. All have gone down and Cuba and the DPRK are the last ones standing. It is exactly your and the Cubans “appeasement” why Cuba is still a slavecolony and nothing is gonna change. Stop whining that “nothing can be done because the PCC is so strong and all powerfull”. Bla, bla, bla. Girls in Iran have bigger balls than most Cubans. I come from a long line of Partizans who never accepted the fact that they were oppressed and enslaved and we butchered quite a few of those who came and thought they could tell us what to do. With all your talk and ” analysis” you offer NOT A SINGLE solution making people like you and your family a part of the problem not the solution. Just keep hanging around on your porch in your rocking chair and wait until a miracle comes from the sky. That didn’t happen for 60 years now. Keep waisting paper by writing books instead of standing up. That will help.

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    • I often wonder why Cubans do not rise up against their oppressors. Your debate with Carlyle, who has written an excellent book about Cuba life by the way, has overlooked one unique aspect of Cuban life that other oppressed peoples lack. Cubans are probably the best educated and the most poorly led people in modern history. Consider all of the various examples of successful and non-successful revolutions and counterrevolutions discussed in your back and forth with Mr. MacDuff. By and large the people were poor and poorly educated. The leadership were generally better off economically and far better educated. These conditions were explicitly applicable to Fidel Castro and his rebellion against the Batista dictatorship. Consider this: today in Cuba the people are at least as educated as any leadership that has emerged. How does this limit the efficacy of any resistance movement? Cubans are hard to convince. They are not likely to easily follow a rebellion leader. Their education, albeit limited in world exposure, has left them cynical and untrusting. 60 years of Castro lies has created low expectations. Couple the cynicism of the Cuban people with the dearth of charismatic leadership. Let’s be honest: Fidel Castro is a hard act to follow. This is why the Castros have remained in power so long.

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    • An uncle of mine was the first Allied adviser dropped by parachute into aid Tito and his partisans in Yugoslavia. My father following working with the Maquis in occupied France, then as cover being Head of Military Government in a part of Northern Italy centered in Monfalcone, was Head of Station for MI6 in Vienna, being one of the first two Brits to enter that city in May 1945. The UK agents in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania and the Russian zone of Austria reported to him and we had an apartment in central Vienna from that time until 1997. I served as a commissioned officer in the Corps of Royal Military Police in occupied Germany when there were many thousands of displaced stateless persons living in camps. My knowledge of communism and its practices is based upon many decades of observation and experience. As I have said previously, Raul Castro is both intelligent and cunning and has learned from the errors committed by others who allowed dissension . You obviously consider that that his knowledge accumulated over seven decades (from 1953 onward) can be dismissed as valueless although it has resulted in forming and operating very effective internal security systems on an isolated island with no neighbours to permitting infiltration.
      If you consider that my knowledge of and concern for the people of Cuba is “whining”, consider why it was that the enslavement of Russia commencing in 1917, lasted until 1989. That was 72 years. Do please say why the Russians did not revolt and why they permitted wholesale slaughter of millions? How and why did thirteen countries tolerate their USSR communist master’s until the implosion of that USSR in 1989? You scoff at Hungary – why did their 1956 uprising fail?
      I noted your interest in the obviously somewhat peculiar anatomy of Iranian women. so what are they doing with all that testosterone to overthrow the Iranian regime?

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      • Your claim that in there where no uprises in the USSR proves that you severely overrate your knowledge of political history. The Hungarians revolt under a communist regime so did Czechoslovakia and a range of countries in Eastern Europe in 1989. In that same year, I saw a lone guy standing in front of a tank on Tiananmen Square. The Poles did it in 1980 and even in the USSR there where revolts and uprisings (yes, check Wiki). Again: you offer no solutions or alternatives. Blame everything on the “genius” of Raul. In 1939 Hitler was very lucky that he wasn’t blown to pieces by a lone German carpenter. I never heard of a Cuban try to do that to Raul.

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        • Are you blind Martin or do you just not bother reading ? I ask, because in my comments above of May 11, I specifically mention the uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and even quote Fidel Castro’s reaction to the latter.
          The uprisings in the enslaved countries of Eastern Europe in 1989 only followed the commencement of Gorbachev’s policies.
          As an illustration of how Raul, learned from the mistakes of others. In Poland Lech Walesa led members of the ship builders union Solidarity formed in 1980. He was then jailed from 81-82, but was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. In Cuba, only one workers union is permitted and it is an integral part of the Communist Party of Cuba, making it impossible for a figure like Walesa to emerge.
          Cuba has plenty of dissidents, with most of them in jail. Remember what happened to the fellow in Revolution Square last year when he ran out with his placard?
          Our difference is based upon your determination to belittle the people of Cuba by saying that they drown in self-pity. I as one who is married to a Cuban lives in Cuba, with my Cuban family and Cuban friends – many of whom work in the medical, educational and legal professions, I can vouch that the comment is incorrect.
          As for Russia, where and when did the Russians revolt and what was the result? Don’t bother rushing off to Wikipedia, just display your own knowledge!

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  • I imagine it’s hard to contemplate political change if your day is spent looking for food. I do not support my country’s current policies (US), I believe President Obama was right to go to Cuba and start change through engagement and dialogue. As a Yuma having spoken with many Cubans of different political leanings is they all have one thing in common ….. whatever changes lie ahead for Cuba that they are peacefully done. I can only hope that’s the case. I think the biggest danger ahead for Cuba is education. Say what you will about the failures of the Revolution, but certainly education was an amazing achievement. Having traveled my country and much of the world, Cubans are the one of the most educated people to the person. The value of that currency can’t be overestimated, however the problem is that currency has little value in Cuba, (other then a prized ticket out of the country to somewhere in world). However, many young Cubans see higher education as valueless and that is the biggest danger facing Cuba. Not being able to freely use the skills given to you is a huge problem. I returned from Vietnam recently and had a message for my young nieces and nephews better get motivated cause there is a Country full of young, educated and vibrant people that your going to be competing with…….I should be able to say that about Cuba….Sad.

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  • @Carlyle At least a good part of the Iranian women, who are oppressed in more than one way, stand up to their oppressors on a daily basis by breaking the rules, resist arrest and even attack police forces. In public! And the Iranian regime is no less cunning and brutal than the Cuban. I have never seen Cuban do that.

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  • Ladies in White protest and get arrested all the time in the Cuba dictatorship.
    The military/generals are bought off by Raul Castro/communist party and monitored by the police state.

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