HAVANA TIMES — In December, we all like to talk about or at least think about our plans for the coming months, about what we achieved or left behind during the year that comes to an end (according to our calendars). This may have something to do with the unconscious need to be re-born: to let what we were die in order to become others, new, better and more evolved.
Incidentally, it was at the end of 2014, after wading through bureaucratic obstacles, and thanks to the help of some individuals who lent me a hand in the midst of so much stress, that I managed to obtain my Transit Visa. This was the first step towards putting an end to my three-year status as an illegal resident, in a country where there are barely any regulations against immigrants. The amazing ease with which any person can remain in Venezuela after their tourist visa expires contrasts with all the bureaucratic hurdles one must overcome in order to become a legal resident of the country.
There is no reason to dwell on the uglier side of things, however. It’s better to thank the country that, whatever its defects and virtues, has taken me in. It’s better to think that, in a few months’ time, if the economic and social crisis we’re in doesn’t worsen, I will be able to visit my friends and family, my dog and cat, the coconut trees in my grandmother’s backyard and the sea.
I learned a number of things in the course of these 12 months that are now joining the ranks of my memories. One of them is that Cubans are divided into the Good and the Bad, like in those old Westerns, but with more dust and less bullets, more melancholy music and less blood, and gestures that are more ridiculous than heroic.
Of course, this business of there being good and bad Cubans isn’t news, and it would be ridiculous to admit it took me 39 years to find this out. But those were the words I heard often in the bureaucratic run-around of the past few months, literally.
To be allowed back into my own country I had to submit a request at the Cuban Consulate, that is, I had to ask god knows who in Cuba (for it is obvious presidents don’t deal with these trifles) to be allowed to visit the country I was born and lived in for more than 30 years. My partner, who accompanied me that day, on finding out about this diabolical procedure, asked if any problem could arise, if there was any chance I could be denied that “permit”, concerned. The personnel responsible replied with a cold smile disguised as a kind gesture: “if she’s one of the good ones, she shouldn’t have any problems.”
The smile was so cold I felt a chill run up my spine. A few months later, I would find out that this mysterious person (perhaps it’s only a computer) hadn’t classified me as “bad” and my passport received the laconic seal of approval. It could have been worse, that’s what I always think. Venezuela is full of such “good” Cubans, though I don’t know for how much longer.
With these “good” Cubans, I also learned that fear or envy (or both things) makes us look down on Venezuelans. That beautiful Cuban custom of believing ourselves the center of the universe may have a say in this as well. This is the reason I distanced myself from a colleague of mine who worked in Venezuela for a few years. She was a “good” Cuban who, during her first month in the country, arrived at very negative conclusions about its people and, to make matters worse, decided to express it in front of the Venezuelans who had helped her only moments before, and in front of me as well, of course.
Her biggest mistake was being so indiscrete, for the way this good woman thinks (I still consider her a good person) is not too different from what is maintained by those “good” Cubans who lead our country so poorly and sow the nationalist ideas that, for years, had us believe that Latin America was merely a group of Chileans struggling against a dictatorship, Nicaraguans or Salvadorans joining guerrillas, Bolivians betraying Che Guevara, Haitians dying of hunger and a couple of Argentineans singing protest songs.
There is a fair degree of imperialist sentiment behind the ideas of the “good” Cubans who govern us – only thus can I explain the habit Cubans have of feeling intellectually superior to Venezuelans, and their government’s insistence of increasing the number of Cubans who are “helping” in nearly all economic and political sectors. That is no secret for anyone in Venezuela.
The second thing I learned during 2014 is that one should not express everything one knows.