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

  • May 14, 2019 at 10:46 pm
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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.

  • May 14, 2019 at 9:43 pm
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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!

  • May 14, 2019 at 1:54 pm
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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.

  • May 14, 2019 at 1:31 pm
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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.

  • May 14, 2019 at 8:19 am
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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.

  • May 13, 2019 at 1:20 pm
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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?

  • May 13, 2019 at 11:18 am
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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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