By Pedro Pablo Morejón
HAVANA TIMES – It’s happened to me twice now. Going to a private convenience stand to buy something for my daughter to eat and the sales assistant of the hour treats me with a politeness that is quite unusual in these situations.
Every time it’s happened, I’ve thought that I may have stirred some kind of attraction in them. Or maybe they thought my 11-year-old daughter was cute, so they treated us really nicely.
But it’s happened elsewhere. It’s something that doesn’t seem to bear any connection to the above.
About a month ago, a man who owns a Willy Jeep began to give me a “lift” to work, but he never used to before.
Now, with the friendship we’ve built, he told me that when he used to see me on the highway, he didn’t pick me up because he thought I was a “state security agent”. The kind that work as Cuba’s political police or an inspector, and he doesn’t like these kinds of people. We laughed about it, but I was a little worried.
The enigma was solved when my brother recently told me one morning, “you look like an inspector like that.”
Of course, that was it! Most people, even professionals, wear backpacks. While I use a briefcase, and my appearance of a serious guy and the way I walk with a hint of arrogance, gives the impression of me being this: a goddamn inspector.
Before, I could have passed as a lawyer, doctor or engineer, but it’s been a while now that everyone is able to get a university degree in Cuba…
This got me thinking that the special treatment I received from the self-employed women wasn’t really from my sex appeal or my daughter’s cuteness.
I remembered that this isn’t the first time that I’ve been treated nicely when I’ve gone to a food establishment. Just this week, I went to buy some bananas and the salesman gave me some more for free.
Good customer service is quite rare in Cuba, in state-led stores or in private ones. It’s normal to find dry and even hostile communication at times. Customers aren’t an entity with rights, they are rather submissive subjects. The victims of a scarce correlation between supply and demand, caused by a chronic shortage of goods.
However, state inspectors are treated with respect and politeness, because they can issue painful fines and even close down your business.
A person I know had his small establishment closed down, because he had a woman working there without a legal contract. I saw him recently and he told me, jokingly: “I haven’t been able to open up again yet, they applied the Helms-Burton on me.” That’s how we Cubans are, we laugh even in the face of misfortune.
Well, inspectors make my stomach turn with disgust. I wouldn’t have anything against them, if they really did look out for consumer rights and weren’t instruments of economic repression against the Cuban population who practice activities that are basic human rights, but instead banned by a State that exercises its power to decide what’s allowed and what isn’t.
Plus, many of them can be bribed. They go somewhere, accept money and it’s as if they had a bandage over their eyes so they can’t see the illegal activity in front of them. Well, bandage is a euphemism, they don’t even pretend to have that anymore.
But if the self-employed business owner doesn’t give into their blackmail, then they come crashing down with the full weight of the law. The worst thing is that no matter how “legal” everything might seem, illegal activities are the oxygen that allow Cuba to breathe. So they can always find something wrong.
This is why I don’t like them.