By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – I am a legal adviser at a state-led company. Let me clarify, over 90% of the business system in Cuba is in the State’s hands. In recent years, small and medium-sized private enterprises have been approved, known by the acronym MIPYMES (MSMEs) and their real contribution will mean practically nothing to the national economy, amidst obstacles and legal prohibition.
They control you in public positions with “unions”, the Party, etc. A woman came to my office who works for the union to collect the commitment which they call “contribution to the Homeland” in the workplace, money that ends up in the Army’s coffers.
No matter how much sense dignity and the right to self-determination make, it’s pretty much impossible to gain full independence within a totalitarian system, for we are merely extensions of a totalitarian system… and there are limits to my courage, it’s not in my vocation to be a martyr.
I sometimes see opinions from Cuban emigres going on about the cowardice or complicity of their fellow countrymen on the island, as if they had been the Spartans within the system, as if they didn’t know that their lives, in the island jail, are tied to the same institutions that they now dare to condemn. There have been honorable exceptions, of course, but that’s all they’ve been: exceptions.
Well anyway, I committed with a 20-peso contribution. She told me that I can’t do this, that everybody committed with 50 pesos. Next thing she does is jot down 50 on the sheet of paper and hands it to me to sign. I said no, that I said 20. She didn’t understand my attitude, she watched me with an annoyed expression on her face, as if she didn’t have a normal human being before her, but an alien perhaps.
I know that I don’t normally fit in. I’m an unusual man. I was kicked out of the law firm over 12 years ago and from the university where I taught Law as an assistant professor. I also received a disciplinary sanction for not keeping quiet in front of an authoritarian boss. I’ve survived ever since then, maybe because I’ve had Luck on my side, or because I’ve kept a low profile.
My dream is to be freer via literature, to make a living from my work as a writer (honestly, I don’t know if I’m any good at this) and for them to leave me alone. But this is just a beautiful dream, because there’s no money in books, people don’t read.
Anyway, back to the story. She tried to pressure me to see if she could make me fold. She believed she might be able to, ignoring the fact that I’m quite tough, that I’m not another sheep in the flock. She told me or threatened me (I don’t know which) that I will have to explain my decision before the professional cadre that deals with the union on a higher level. That’s not going to be good, Pedro Pablo, she told me.
I explained to her, trying to reason with her telling her that it’s supposed to be a voluntary contribution. Do you understand I asked? Vo-lun-tar-y. I separated the word into syllables, and I no longer knew if it’s a noun, adjective or adverb because it’s been thrown around and manipulated so much.
I insisted for a while. Far from being afraid, I enjoyed the moment. I laughed with her and made her smile, but I was as firm as I could be, telling her “no”, and telling her to redo the sheet. Finally she left in silence, annoyed, frustrated, maybe knowing that she will have to redo the sheet with signatures.
But that’s not what was really ticking her off, much less it being an ideological or ethical matter. Does she have an ideology? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t. She was annoyed because of fear more than anything else. She thinks that she is responsible if somebody doesn’t give the “contribution” or gives less than the “suggested” amount.
These are the things that happen here in Cuba.
Suddenly I found myself searching for some music on my phone to chill out, I selected a salsa song by Ricardo Arjona called “Como los cisnes” (Like the swans) and yes, I do feel calm, and clean like the swans amidst so much crap…