HAVANA TIMES, March 9 – The worst thing that can happen to someone in their own country is not being subjected to unjust laws, but being subjected to inexistent laws.
After reading Z’s resume, comrade M decided she was perfectly qualified for a job at the radio station. It was only necessary that she go to the Department of Human Resources to take care of the paperwork for the contract. “It’s possible you can begin in a month,” he told her.
Comrade X, head of the Department of Human Resources, proceeded to review the young woman’s resume and degrees. She had worked for two press publications, was a journalism graduate and…had a degree in education.
“But you’re a teacher,” comrade X commented. “Not exactly,” Z responded, because she had never worked as a teacher. “In any case, since you’re an education graduate, I can’t hire you because it would be violating a law,” he pointed out. She would have to bring him a letter affirming she was no longer under the Ministry of Education.
Z went to the ministry and there she explained her problem to an official who. The official told her that he could not give her a release from that authority because she had never worked for it, and therefore she was free to be hired in any other job. She insisted that she needed the letter, but he argued that he could not give it because it wasn’t necessary. He added: “Also, just imagine if we were to type up and print out a letter for each person who came here with a similar problem.”
At the radio station Z repeated her conversation to the official. But comrade X maintained that he could not hire her without the letter.
The paper chase
Z then went to the Ministry of Labor, where an attentive and smiling receptionist attended to her. As she didn’t know exactly what department to go to, Z explained the problem to her. “Ah, that’s under Department…” But instead of sending her to that office, she had Z call on the phone.
At the other end of the line, the person listened to her problem and told her that it had to do with another department. Similarly, Z telephoned that office. After she had spoken to the fifth faceless voice, Z was sure the place was full offices occupied by answering machines.
The sole real person there must have been there was the receptionist. The personnel she saw going and coming with papers from one office to another must have been people hired to give the impression that the Ministry really functioned. She returned the telephone to the receptionist and decided to lodge a complaint – though she didn’t know where. This was when it occurred to the receptionist that there was a department that could clarify the Z’s doubt, so she pointed to the door to that office.
Believing this to be another ruse, Z knocked on the door and almost jumped from fright when she heard “Enter.” Inside were two lawyers – the first real people to whom she could explain her problem.
“That law doesn’t exist,” they assured her after hearing of her dilemma. “It’s true it was once suggested that it wasn’t completely appropriate for teachers be hired in positions below their status, but a law per se has never existed.
She concluded that comrade X at the radio station was committing a violation, but the lawyers informed her that each workplace reserves certain rights over hiring, and that they themselves could not intervene in that matter.
“But this is a socialist country and I need to work. I need to make money and feel socially useful,” she said. The lawyers repeated they couldn’t do anything. She could use the argument that no such law existed, but she would have to accept the position of the radio station if they didn’t want to hire her.
Z ended up throwing in the towel and began looking for another job…as a teacher.
Concocting ghost laws
This is not a story by Kafka. Nor is it my attempt to imitate Kafka, though I wish it were.
First, because I would have wanted this story to have happened to me. Second, because one could say that in my country situations as absurd as this don’t happen. But what’s certain is that this did in fact happen to an acquaintance of mine (who of course isn’t named Z) and to her friend, who I’ll call B.
She had indeed worked in the field of education and had obtained a formal release, yet comrade X told her that this wasn’t enough. She needed to present another letter affirming she was no longer under the Ministry of Education.
The most frustrating thing is not being subjected to a law that one doesn’t know about, but being subjected to it even after finding out it doesn’t exist. Yet the immense majority of people in our country don’t ask where the laws appear. It’s enough to tell them: “You can’t do that” or “You can’t go into this.”
Our list of ghost laws at one time included prohibitions against staying in hotels for foreign tourism and buying cars.
There must be many comrade Xs around here making up whole laws drafted by themselves, though these individuals generally screw up at some moment and lose the opportunity to speak on behalf of laws that don’t exist.
But I wonder if they sit down to come to an agreement, because this it is not the first time that I’ve heard the argument that teachers cannot be hired outside of that field. In fact, it was not a notion unheard of by an official of the Ministry of Education or by the lawyers at the Ministry of Labor. Where did the original idea come from? And how was that rumor spread?