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 13, 2019 at 1:19 am
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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.

  • May 12, 2019 at 7:09 pm
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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?

  • May 12, 2019 at 5:28 pm
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    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.

  • May 12, 2019 at 3:12 pm
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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.

  • May 12, 2019 at 1:06 pm
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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.

  • May 12, 2019 at 11:13 am
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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!

  • May 11, 2019 at 12:19 pm
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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.”

  • May 11, 2019 at 11:05 am
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    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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