HAVANA TIMES, April 11 – Carlos always tries to participate in the meetings of his CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) and in the Report-back Assemblies of his community delegate (representative to the city council). He feels these are the appropriate places for raising the problems he suffers as a citizen of this country, as opposed to making simple comments to kill time at a bus stop.
For him, these meetings constitute such important forums that he writes out all the points he plans to make, and he does this well in advance. In the last report-back assembly, Carlos began by posing the following question: “When will Cubans recover their dignity with regard to the freedoms and advantages foreigners enjoy in our country?”
Since the delegate didn’t understand what was meant by the question, Carlos decided to be more explicit: “There are facilities that tourists can use but Cubans can’t. For example, a group of tourists could board a diving ship, but when their tour guide tried to do same thing, the ship’s employees stopped him and told him Cubans aren’t admitted. The guide used the argument that he was the group’s guide, but he still wasn’t allowed on board. Carlos then referred to how it’s impossible for Cubans to buy houses, cars, stay in hotels…”
At this point in the story (he was telling me what had happened in the assembly), I was forced to interrupt because obviously his information wasn’t up to date. “Cubans were given permission to buy cars and stay in hotels two years ago,” I told him. (Now that I think about it, the word “permission” gives the impression that Cubans are like little children whose daddy [the State] had just benevolently allowed them to do these things or had rewarded them for behaving so well.)
“Oh yeah?” Carlos questioned, “And who are these Cubans who can buy cars or stay in hotels? You? Me? A doctor? Do you know how many employees in TRDs (hard-currency stores) have lost their jobs and even their Party membership cards —if they were members— for staying in a hotel and not being able to identify the source of the money used. On top of that, they’re accused of being “ostentatious.”
The interesting thing is that this is done after the person has spent the money for the lodging. It wasn’t like that before when they didn’t have permission.” I sat there silenced, of course, and he continued telling me about the meeting. He had also brought up the issue of the quality of products sold to people in hard currency stores. “For example, the juices and sodas: none of them have the flavor stated on the container. Then you have a lot of soaps that make it to the consumers with pieces of plastic inside. And the best part is that the prices keep changing – always increasing, never going down.”
Carlos also criticized the inefficiency of the Police in combating delinquency, as well as its slackness in responding to calls when a crime occurs. “They never come, and I’m absolute when I say that. When you ask for the name of the dispatcher who’s attending to you and the number of the patrol car they’re going to send, they realize they’re not talking to some illiterate.
They’ll give you the information, but in the end no one ever shows up. Now, if you’re selling peanuts or popcorn to earn a living, or lugging around a sack of cement, a police officer will appear in a moment’s notice – along with the ordinance being violated.”
In terms of cell phones, Carlos accepted the fact that they’re sold in hard currency, the same as the phone line. He knows that this type of communication depends on satellites, which are expensive. “But the problem is that on top of them charging for these in hard currency, the line only lasts two months if you don’t put in more funds, when it should last at least three,” he said.
“In many homes, a cell phone is not a luxury but the sole telephone that exists, because getting a telephone here is a nightmare. People own cell phones so they can see who’s calling them and at what number. Then they go running to return the call from a neighbor’s house or a public phone. That’s because if they take the call on the cell phone they, as well as the caller get charged.”
I’m sure you’re wondering what the reaction was of the rest of the people at the meeting, since Carlos wasn’t the only one there of course. People nodded their heads in agreement and listened to the comments he made – but no one else spoke.
You’re also probably wondering what response was made to those grievances by the delegate – who is elected by the people and required to report back through these meetings on the actions they’ve taken, address concerns and to look for solutions to the community’s problems.
The delegate reminded Carlos that neither he nor anyone else had been forced to buy a cell phone. (Personally I believe that many people wouldn’t buy them if it wasn’t so difficult to get a normal phone). Concerning the rest of the problems, the delegate said these were things that shouldn’t have been raised at that meeting because they were outside his purview.
Carlos reminded him that people had in fact selected him to search for solutions to their problems and to respond to their concerns, appealing to higher authorities if necessary. The response to the complaints was left pending, but they didn’t have long to wait: Comrades from the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party went to investigate Carlos on his job and at his neighborhood CDR.
The information they received was that he fulfilled his work responsibilities and was an active and committed member of the CDR. Carlos was undaunted by these probes. In fact, he’s already written up his points for the next meeting, where he will include the fact that tour buses return to Havana empty from destinations where they drop off tourists, given that it’s forbidden to pick up nationals on the highway trying to get to the capital.