Where will the Pressure Cooker Blow?

Irina Echarry

Photo: cafefuerte.com

HAVANA TIMES — No, I don’t want to go to Cuba, I’m not going to sit down damn you, shouted the young man who was standing, holding fast onto the seat of the plane that was taking him back; this was his way of resisting the force of Mexican immigration officials.

This scene is taken from one of the videos that are going viral on the Internet about Cubans being deported, those who were greatly affected by the elimination of the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy while they were on their way to the US.

It’s sad to think about just how many people have been left with nothing, after selling their little belongings so that they could reach US soil, and now their futures seem so uncertain, so remote from the ones they had planned.

While the government goes on and on about their great achievement, about having won an important battle, etc., you can hear stories, comments and rumors about these unlucky people on the streets of Havana. And a metaphor is constantly being repeated on the Internet: the pressure cooker.

Cuba is the cooker of course, and pressure will build up when all of those deported return to the island. It’s a very good metaphor, and it’s true that it will be more favorable for social upheaval. But, – there is always a but -, those who think that this uprising will come soon and that it will achieve greater freedom, democracy and a change in our system… well, I believe that they should think about this again.

I have been witness to the decline of society over all these years and seen how apathy has taken control. Meanwhile, reggaeton culture is also the cause and effect of this. And, it pains us or doesn’t, because we form a part of this culture. The Cubans who returning to the island by force are also a part of this culture. What makes us think that they will come back any different? More stressed out and unhappy yes, it’s true, but will that have anything to do with how they channel their disappointment?

According to what I gather everyday on the street, the fact that there will be more unsatisfied people here doesn’t mean that there will be a change for the better. The people who are returning today, only left a few months ago, they were already annoyed and preferred to leave, for one reason or another.

It’s complicated, we’ve gradually been accepting this discomfort as something natural: “I’m at rock bottom, just imagine, this isn’t easy.” This is a common phrase but, although it seems a little stupid, the fact that this happens on a daily basis, shows we’ve learned how to live with this discomfort permanently. We don’t try to understand this discomfort, we just experience it. That’s why, when it comes to protesting, people only complain on a superficial level, to the person next to them who is in the same position as they are, but it’s tangible. I can insult and even hit them if I want to, that way I can vent my anger. At the end of the day, it’s not even made clear that I should answer for my actions.

A lot of the time, social matters, which involve all of us, become diluted into something personal which is then vented out on the street in the form of rudeness, abuse and sometimes even acts of physical aggression. This is how we act in extremely different situations: when the driver passes our stop, the neighbor puts on really loud music, teachers sexually harass our teenagers, when we’re not seen properly at the hospital, some people smoke in enclosed areas, or when the butcher steals half of the chicken meant for rations.

The abuse we suffer is continuous. However, expressing annoyance or respect to another person in a public space comes down to guidelines, general consensus, laws, regulations, etc., and not rowdy behavior. Because this is how the strongest, the person who shouts the loudest or the person who deals the hardest blow wins; justice will just be put aside. It doesn’t make sense to deal with it as an insult or personal humiliation; we have to resort to our legal channels. I know that this might seem impossible, worthy of a script for a heroic fantasy novel.

We have stopped believing in, trusting and valuing the justice system which governs our society. We disregard and constantly violate it. For many reasons: crises create chaos; the majority of our laws don’t suit our people; the government, conveniently, turns a blind eye to the offences they consider to be less serious. These are some of the most important reasons, in my opinion.

Especially the one which concerns the government that prefers to lead you to believe, for example, that you are free to cut down a tree if you don’t like it; put music on however loudly you want to, even though this annoys others; to determine when you stop the bus and pick up people; to con your work colleague; set a garbage can alight whenever you want to; to throw a dog out onto the street so that it can live on its own and deal with other people’s abuse; or to ignore hygiene regulations at some kind of food sales point.

We, naive and apathetic people, enjoy this small dose of freedom and don’t go beyond that. It’s the perfect strategy to uphold the current status-quo.

That doesn’t mean to say that, as citizens, we are free of blame, but one thing leads to another. When we move to other countries, we don’t behave like this because we know that if we don’t respect the law then there will be consequences.

In Cuba, we are living a phenomenon of aggravated individualism, thinking about ourselves first and then maybe, about those we love. We forget that we form a part of a society and that we could work together to make it better. Honestly, the majority of people don’t care, my closest neighbors don’t even know what society is, other people joke about it.

That’s why I don’t expect there will be any positive change when the pressure cooker explodes. Can a society really progress when it doesn’t have laws? Where individuals don’t recognize themselves as citizens with rights and duties? Well, yes, advance backwards, like you do in the bus.

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.

6 thoughts on “Where will the Pressure Cooker Blow?

  • Are you promising, N. J. Marti, that the NEXT imperialist domination of Cuba will bring the island a world-class democracy instead of a return of the Batistianos and Mafiosi? How nice of you.

  • The false choice of a return to Batista betrays the weakness of support for the debacle that is Castro dictatorship.

  • Rich, you continue to have a creepy habit of conflating anti-Castro comments with a self-described pro-Batista ideology. So for the umpteenth time, I oppose ALL dictatorships. Batista and Castro alike. Frankly, I have never met anyone who supports a return to days of Batista tyranny. Ending Castro tyranny is not a binary decision. I support a free Cuba. Free from the Castros and any other dictatorships who would take away Cuba’s freedom.

  • Perhaps, Moses, Cuba would be far less “harsh and dirty” if the longest and cruelest economic embargo ever imposed by a powerful nation against a weak nation was ended. For that to happen, of course, the small but cruel and powerful minority in the United States that revels and benefits — revengefully, economically and politically — from a “harsh and dirty” Cuba would have to be challenged, as Obama TRIED to challenge them.

    The benefactors who perpetrate that extreme imperialist cruelty decade after decade COULD CARE LESS that it shames the United States of America with a 191-to-0 worldwide condemnation in the United Nations. I also note that your only reaction to such a denunciation and to such a translucent economic assault on a small nation is to rail about “Castro sycophants” and “Castro bootlickers.” I’m pro-American, Moses, and I judge Cuba from that prism although when I see children punished by powerful foreign forces in Cuba, in Syria or anywhere else I cringe at man’s inhumanity to children and to the women who try so hard to protect and comfort them.

    Of course, while you openly try to defend and win your argument just with the “sycophant-bootlicker” harangue, you, of course, are silently implying a powerful defense of the Batista-Mafia rule of Cuba from 1952 till 1959. That is quite unfair to the multitude of Cuban women who spawned the revolution by marching in the streets with posters and placards that decried the murder of their children by Batista thugs…such as little William Soler and his 3 classmates whose bodies were left in an abandoned warehouse. NY Times photos and articles by Herbert L. Matthews document such facts, with Matthews a prime reason the marching women weren’t mowed down. A children’s hospital in Cuba today is named for William Soler, as you know. The documented history of Batista’s Cuba also includes the multitude of University students — such as Jose Echeverria — that were murdered by Batista death squads, murders that continued even after Batista closed the University of Havana because the Federation of University Students, known by the FEU acronym, was the hotbed of the anti-Batista revolt.

    The FEU just celebrated its 94th anniversary and its current leader, a young woman named Jennifer Bello Rodriguez, recently held a celebrated news conference to declare that today’s FEU would fight to defend “Cuba’s hard-earned sovereignty with the same fervor that Jose Echeverria and so many others fought, even in vain, to give Cuba.” Of course, I know that, hiding behind the skirts of the world superpower, the U. S. Batista supporters are not exactly frightened by Jennifer Bello Rodriguez’s resolve but it seems she is supported by the unanimity of opinion — 191-to-0 — as voiced by the UN vote.

    Herbert L. Matthews also made sure that both the U. S. and Cuban archives today include countless black-and-white photos of the majority peasants in Batista’s Cuba saddled with abject poverty with no consideration of educational or health care, with perhaps the most ubiquitous such photos depicting food-and-shelter deprived Cuban women and children staring blankly into the cameras. To not know Herbert L. Matthews, William Soler, Jose Echeverria and today’s Jennifer Bello Rodriguez is to not know why Jennifer, who has no plans to defect to Miami, is not fondly relishing a return of the second or third generation of Batista supporters who, unfortunately, control most of the Cuban narrative — especially in Miami and Washington but also in online propaganda forums, although Circles’ fair-minded HT allows both sides of the two-sided Cuban conundrum to be aired.

    So, Moses, in this forum you have your side and I have my side, and my side, I believe, is pro-American first and foremost but also severely tinged with the lament about rich and powerful forces in one nation benefiting FROM or exalting IN the punishment of children and women in a far less powerful nation. Men facing off against men is one thing but when children and women are the primary victims, that is something else entirely.

  • Brilliant….a most insightfull piece of journalism..YOUR BEST YET,!..i am a canadian living in cuba and your description of the cuban behaviour and social manners are totally correct.it is not thier fault ….they have learned this behaviour from years of lost dreams and hopes and they have become angry…..and fraustrated.it will be a long long time before they can begin to change thier public manners…thier social behaviour…To realize that thier rigatone culture is no culture at all…just mind garbage that rots the soul…for most cubans over 30 years of age it is to late to change….Only the very young will rescue them BUT it will not be easy.

  • First of all, I agree with Irina’s observations regarding the current state of Cuban society. What doesn’t reconcile for me are the comments often made by Castro sycophants here at HT which reflect a Cuba long since gone. Superficially, Cubans are generally friendly. But, after spending more than two weeks in Cuba outside of Varadero or Trinidad, even those “friendly” Cubans begin to show the wear and tear of the failed Castro dictatorship on their daily lives. The crumbling buildings, open sewers, shortages of basic necessities, long long lines, etc. begin to take their toll. What Cuba are these Castro bootlickers referring to? The Cuba I know is harsh and dirty.

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