HAVANA TIMES — The day Donald Trump announced the changes to his policy towards Cuba, the news caught me at the home of a computer accessories salesman.
As the man had the TV swtiched on (a plasma screen of gigantic proportions), I asked him what the US president had said: He replied:
Which in perfect Cuban means “nothing useful”, at least for us.
And while he showed me, on his PC’s huge screen and colossal structure, that the hard drive I was interested in buying worked properly, he continued to say:
–Look, I don’t know who you are, you don’t know who I am either and maybe you think… (he left a meaningful pause). The only thing I can tell you is that I don’t want “that” coming here. Everyone is mixed up in something here, but if “that” comes… (Another pause heavy with implicit meaning).
Trying to be polite, I said that I believed I understood what he was getting at. And I mentioned how bad it would be, for example, for the elderly.
-Old people won’t be able to sell coffee or plastic bags on the corner… Look, my neighbor, who is a kid, asked me: “Why didn’t they let Celia Cruz come?” He doesn’t even know who Celia Cruz is, nor you, not even me… Yes, I know she was a black woman who used to put on 700 wigs, but things are more complicated than they seem.
Without agreeing with what he had just said, I made a conciliatory gesture. I was in his home and as a customer. However, had I informed him of my thoughts at that time, it would have been more or less this:
If “that” comes here, you won’t be able to sell me this hard drive for 70 CUC anymore just because you bought it abroad and you’re reselling it making God knows how much out of it because it isn’t available on the official market. And if it were, it would be much more expensive than what it costs abroad and also on the black market because the Cuban government is the most merciless reseller.
“Everyone is mixed up in something here,” he’d said. That is to say, something illegal. And this will end when “that” comes.
The miserable business of coffee and plastic bags too. But, that isn’t the worst thing in all of this.
The worst thing in all of this is that these old people lived their lives waiting for a dignified future, they didn’t feel they had the right to demand a decent salary and they conformed themselves, like him, to be “mixed up in something”, if they could. A very select few of them would have bought a supercomputer or a plasma TV of such huge dimensions. The worst thing is that, even though their fridge is empty and the house (if they have one), is about to collapse on top of them, they don’t feel like they have the right to demand a decent pension.
And it’s true, I never had the privilege of seeing Celia Cruz sing. I have only heard that she was a Cuban artist with a captivating and one-of-a-kind presence, that she left like so many Cubans continue to leave. That she put Cuban music up at the top, which opened the doors to other Latin musicians and reclaimed the role the female figure has in pop music.
That she would have wanted to come and go from the country where she and her music were born, every time she wanted to and deserved to. She was sure that her people would have received her with delirious joy, just like they do when foreign celebrities come, but with the extra pride of being a part of this art.
And that isn’t so complicated. The bad thing is that not knowing Celia wasn’t our choice, our decision, and that is the underlying root of that kid neighbor’s question.
It isn’t “that” that’s bad, but “this”. That we don’t know our history and our culture; That the large majority settle for edited versions; That the government decides who can and can’t enter and leave; That we aren’t demanding dignified salaries or pensions, and that we have come to believe that diverting resources, scamming the State and our fellow Cubans and living off resale viable because of the shortages, is better than if we were to demand the right to prosper with honest work, to leave and enter our country freely, to have free access to information and the freedom of opinion and speech.
The worst thing is that a foreign president, whether he’s being sincere or not, with the best or worst intentions, is the person who has to talk about empowering civil society, respecting dissidents, free elections… Issues which our own government never mentions, and the Cuban people have learned to pretend don’t exist. Learned to the point that they have even convinced themselves that their omission isn’t the cause of such material and moral dispossession, so much “anthropological damage”, so much apathy, so much forced displacement, so much exile.
The worst thing is that strange state of questioning ourselves of the most obvious, of ignoring the visible and the tangible. The worst thing is that anything that comes, from outside or here in Cuba, is the consequence of what we have, of what we allow to germinate and take root with our silence.