Survival (I)

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Living in Cuba is extremely complex. You have to take risks for and because of everything. Even to survive. I am not talking about loss or profit in the development of a business. I mean that in almost all daily contexts, one has to resort to illegal activities.

If you buy something of a dubious origin, you are then offending for receiving stolen goods. If you sell something, then you are speculating. If you buy something to resale, then you are greedy. Every offense in the Penal Code is designed in such a way as to cover numerous situations in everyday life.

Such behaviors are not a danger to society at all, but according to the legislation they are pre-classed as illegal actions. For the government, the only legal activity is to work for a state institution, study or buy your rations from the state shop. Doing anything else is like walking on the razor’s edge of illegality.

The authorities are fully aware of this situation. On a daily basis, police officers stop and search hundreds of people on the street, under the suspicion that they are committing an offense. I don’t know if there are statistics on this, but I would say that every five minutes, 20% of the citizens commit an offense.

Perhaps we all look like criminals.

The truth is that stop-and-search on the street is against the dignity of our citizens, but that doesn’t seem to matter: they have to search all the handbags, backpacks, parcels, shopping bags; that’s how they say the law is observed. “Institutionalization, order and discipline” is the latest slogan.

The same thing happens at home. In every neighborhood, a committee “ensures” that no illegal activities take place. But we all know it is rare to find a neighbor who doesn’t have any sort of underground business going on. Because no one can live on their monthly salary. Unless they receive money from family and friends abroad or they are stealing from the government.

The first one to “go f”ward” (snitch) on any one is the president of The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, even though his domicile has an illegal store of pirated movies. Every evening he walks around the neighborhood renting out soap operas, televised series, and programs from Channel 41 in Miami.

Not because of curiosity, but rather out of necessity one learns what their neighbors are up to, you arrive from work and find that you are out of cooking oil, you grab the bottle and ask around the neighborhood. Right away some one tells you who is selling oil and who up to yesterday afternoon had some but ran out. It is day to day for those that do not have convertible pesos and need to get laundry detergent, bath soap or beef because some one in the family has low hemoglobin.

Even though living practically in illegality, the Cuban people must report law-breaking acts. Failure to meet this obligation is seen by the Penal Code as a crime. Turning a blind eye to this conduct is also an infraction. And you can be fined. Or go to jail.

Laritza Diversent

Photo: Karl Langley, Flickr

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