‘On the Left’ in Cuba

Some people believe this is not cheating, anybody can “take it or leave it” is their motto. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 12 – Granma newspaper online features an article Friday on the meaning of “on the left,” which in Cuba is an expression quite different from what it might imply in other countries.

Journalist Silvia Martinez points out that the phenomenon described is routine in Cuban society and she sees the participation and/or complicity of people at all levels.

The following is a Havana Times translation of the entire text:


Silvia Martinez Puentes

The term “on the left,” currently in fashion in Cuban society, refers to the act of obtaining an objective while violating the established norms.  This may be applied to anything from getting a better place in line (cutting in front of those who were already in it waiting to buy goods or services), or securing a job position illicitly, or receiving special treatment in the processing of some document in the State sphere.

Acting “on the left” is when those who work in food services or retail commerce, for example, take advantage of their position to cheat the State —and the public— in a myriad of ways.  They do so with total impunity given the impossibility of being detected by the mechanisms of economic control, because in the end the books balance.

One of the better known techniques is slipping in, “on the left,” supplies and products into an establishment, which are in turn sold to the public as if they were provided by the State.

“On the left” prices are fudged and resources that should be employed in production or services are siphoned off into the black market.

When we delve into the psychology of the people involved, we find those who “lucha” (struggle) and those who “resuelve” (resolve).  However, in other settings they change the roles indicated by those designations: and both become the premise and result from a sordid game marked by the most primitive form of supply and demand.

“On the left” is bartering oblivious to all rules of exchange; lacking moral values or a sense of what is prohibited.  It implies a total slackness by acting as the individual owners of property that is collective; privatizing what is the property of the State.

Some people believe this is not cheating, anybody can “take it or leave it” is their motto.  Others know they’re breaking the law and violating the established order, but they do it aware of what the consequences can be.

The moral harm to society is tremendous, as is the monetary and material damage and the loss of State resources from which the underground market feeds and fattens.

There is also direct harm to those who need a document or a service.  They are obligated to go through the established mechanisms, frequently annoying, because they don’t have the money to offer the right people or buy a “gift” in exchange for a “favor.”  Then too there are those who are simply unwilling to violate their principles.

In many of these offices and establishments, administrators and other managers coexist in perfect harmony with practices “on the left.”

It’s a paradox that even when people are harmed by such unscrupulous behavior, they don’t file the corresponding complaints.  Nor do they involve themselves in its solution, even when  they’re a part of the work force where the incidents occur, though many clearly see “the straw in other people’s eyes” – after the fact.

This phenomenon is so widespread that it deserves individual and collective action, not people keeping to themselves in the face of such contemptible behavior.  The State loses; so we are called to stand up for collective property.  Those who passively let their rights be snatched away are losing a lot.

* http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/2010/02/12/nacional/artic03.html

One thought on “‘On the Left’ in Cuba

  • The expression “on the left” is a direct translation of the Russian “na lyeva,” meaning “on the sly.”

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