What Does It Matter if it’s May 1st or 5th?

People gather at the seafront Malecon to watch the International Worker’s Day celebration in Havana, Cuba May 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Parades were supposed to be held across the country, but the handful of people in each of these were a joke more than anything else.

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – Celebrating May 1st with a mass parade always seemed silly to me, but this year they broke all meaning of silly here in Cuba.

The fuel crisis already forced the Government to put on a show with long walking local parades, but then the worst came. The Meteorological Institute said that it was going to rain on May 1st (which it didn’t in the end, like almost always when you follow the forecast), and instead of canceling the masquerade with the perfect excuse, they rescheduled it for Friday the 5th.

In other words, in a country that already needs to be producing at full speed, we didn’t only have one national holiday, but two. Yep, don’t go thinking that when they went back on plans for Monday that people were going to work as they should, of course not, they already had it in their heads that they would have this day off, and people who went to work didn’t do half as much as normal, which is already too little, given our situation.

I don’t mean to say that one of the reasons they didn’t do such a big thing this time was their fear of a social uprising. Parades were supposed to be held across the country, but the handful of people in each of these were a joke more than anything else.

The Celebrations organized in every Cuban municipality for May 5th were also a joke, with the same products that are always present, for the same price. In order to gain supporters, they offered bags of soda for 5 pesos (they used to cost 0.40 before) and beer from the tap for 50 pesos a glass (previously 6.00), but everything else cost the same, including jams that are out of any public sector employee’s pocket, and canned beer and soda cost 160 pesos, etc.

The General Secretary of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), Ulises Guilarte, with his constantly upset face when he addresses his subjects and the general public, put “billions of Cubans” on the streets, just to mention his most outrageous barbarism on the Malecon in Havana.

Of course, he said that everyone who took to the streets was their to offer “unlimited” support to the revolutionary process and its historic leaders, but let me repeat that the vast majority of people who went to these gatherings were forced.

I’m repeating this because people in any country in the world will be wondering: why does any Cuban need to march on May 1st, or 5th, like it was this year?

Well, they definitely need to go if they work for the State, like the vast majority of Cubans do, and even those who don’t are under pressure, because if they don’t want their private businesses to go under, they need to avoid any problems with the regime because then they are “targeted” as not having supported them, and their days as self-employed business owners are limited.

Standing on one side of the emblematic Hotel Nacional, Guilarte put special emphasis on the harsh blockade again, without mentioning that everything had eased up a little after Joe Biden entered the White House, sending all kinds of aid to Cuba, which was not only limited to medicine, personal hygiene kits or foot but also included cars, as we’ve recently learned and money sending services with Western Union have started up again.

The story that we are working to be better off in the future never ends, because you can still hear it during every speech.

However, the CTC said nothing about protests led by doctors hired abroad by the State, who complained about default payments and a lack of holiday leave. The only union doesn’t care about these workers and their demands.

But anyway, what can we say about Cuban health professionals, when two of them were kidnapped in Kenya four years ago, and the only thing the Cuban Government is swearing over and over again is that they are healthy. Nobody cares what they get paid, that they haven’t seen their loved ones since 2018, nor can anyone pinpoint their location in neighboring Somalia, in the terrorist group Al Shabab’s headquarters.

Not to mention the chaotic healthcare situation inside our country, where there aren’t any ambulances at hospitals, and not even a thread to suture a child’s head injury. Anyway…

The CTC also deals with pensioners, because they allegedly secured their old age while working, but reaching retirement age in Cuba is really a cross to bear.

The same people who are marching in the Square – the normal gathering spot – today and in previous years, will probably be suffering on a street corner tomorrow, sitting and watching Time pass by, with a little bit of rum to drink if they’re lucky, but in hardship anyhow, because no retirement check in Cuba is decent enough to survive with the basics, not even the pension to the military, who receive pretty much the same as when they were working. By the way, it’s worth remembering that you and I pay for this, and I have never been put on a military uniform.

Guilarte and those who share the same level of cheek have no idea about fuel shortages, or blackouts, or lines to buy a pack of sausages. None of this matters if four people take to the street to protest, because fuel suddenly appears for patrol cars and they do everything they can.

The four people making noise as they walk down the street banging drums and playing trumpets in the early morning and disturb citizen serenity are no reason for censorship, they are using their right to joyously express themselves for May Day, the right that the rest of us don’t have to rest and much less the right to freedom of speech.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times