Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago I went to the Customs Office here in Havana to pick up a small shipment of libertarian (or “anarchist”) newspapers sent from Venezuela. That was when I found out that the officials in that building know what “the interests of the nation” are – though they didn’t want to tell me what those were.
These were the authorities who on December 10 confiscated copies of the El Libertario newspaper, which had been sent to the Alfredo Lopez Libertarian Workshop, a project that’s part of the “new left” Critical Observatory Network. The reason given for the seizure was that the content “goes against the general interests of the nation” – at least that’s what was written in the “incident report” that they saw fit to give me.
That reason was so curious that I couldn’t restrain myself from asking the person who attended me if she knew what “interests” they were referring to.
She assured me that of course she knew, but she said she wouldn’t tell me because I should have already known them. In addition, she was only there to handle complaints.
This legal advisor — wearing her brand new Customs uniform, complete with epaulets with three stripes — indicated that I should submit my complaint in writing, which I thought was fair. I took a piece paper and wrote down my data and my grievance, as she walked away leaving me with another young official with only one stripe.
That took me less than a minute, but the junior officer looked at me a bit puzzled. “No, no, in this letter you have to explain in detail why you want your package returned,” she said, condescendingly.
Of course she didn’t see anything absurd in what she was telling me. So, with a smile on my face, I said I wanted the magazines because they were mine. Wasn’t that reason enough? Apparently so, because without shaking away her bewilderment, she shrugged her shoulders and accepted my letter.
I added that they should explain to me in detail why the package was seized, though I knew they wouldn’t give any explanations. They merely receive complaints.
The young official returned with an air of triumph and some sort of procedures manual in her hand. She said she was sorry that they had made me write out my information and complaint for nothing, since the regulations require a claim to be filed within a 30-day period, and the confiscation had taken place in early December 2012, and by then it was February 2013.
With my same smile, I said it had been within 30 days “since notification,” which was made in January 2013, as evidenced by the postmark from the Marianao post office – proving that I was within the time limit.
This disappointed her, but she reviewed what I had written. In my short note, I said I didn’t know what those interests were that they were referring to, which compelled this uniformed junior officer to say what we’ve heard so many times. With a renewed triumphant air she parroted the old phrase: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
But that statement made me jump for joy. “Ah! Then it’s a law?” I asked. “Can you please tell me then what law it is? And where can I find it?” The official again realized her imprecision and recognized that it wasn’t a law.
“So what is it then?” I asked insistently. The legal advisor returned leafing through three papers in her hands until she found the first and second paragraphs of Resolution 5/96 of the Chief of General Customs of the General Customs Office of the Republic of Cuba.
“So what does the resolution say? Can I see it?” I asked.
However, it seems that the legal advisor is the also the keeper and owner of the law, and she doesn’t want to share it with the rest of her fellow citizens.
In any case, it’s impossible for something as important as “the general interests of the nation” to be contained in the internal legislation of the Customs office. At most, the only thing they can reflect are the interests of “the owners of the nation,” with the capacity to shape it there, which means these would be “special interests” – not “general” ones.
By the way, could it be that among those interests is the right of citizens to receive diverse, plural, updated, national and international information? I don’t think so, because if that had been the case they wouldn’t have seized the newspapers. Maybe they think Granma daily is enough.
In any case, I finally left that office with a commitment that within a month I’d have an official response. March 6 is the time limit for this, which is when I’ll be able to give the Cuban Customs Office’s explanation.
Maybe I’ll even be lucky enough to find out what the interests of my nation are. If I do, I promise to share that information with you.