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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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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