A Calvary of Problems

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

El Calvario (Calvary) is a dusty and steep village, with many half-paved streets. It is located south of Havana, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, the poorest and the one with the greatest number of imprisoned men in the entire city.

It was once a major town. When it was founded in 1753 by a family of Canary Islanders it had pretensions of being a middle-class neighborhood. There were three sugar mills, a municipal park, a church and a cemetery.

It is even said that the Cuban national hero José Martí had a girlfriend in the village. This is a typical claim of inhabitants of lost villages, inventing fables to add prestige to the soil of their birth.

In this January of 2010 in the 21st century, the village is a collection of sad one-story houses. Some have roofs of palm fronds and dirt floors. At the local cemetery a sallow, mentally-challenged guy acts as gatekeeper and gravedigger. Like something out of a horror movie.

In the space between graves, he grows squash, which he offers to the mourners and the curious who visit the rundown cemetery. The fool, which is what he really is, takes advantage of the ground and its possibilities.

A few days ago, between swigs of cheap rum, filtered with molasses and the smell of pork barbecued over charcoal on the grill, in the squalid old town they held the Assembly of Accountability.

What kind of assembly is that? It’s a review of what has been done by the delegate (a kind of council member) before the people who elected him. That night the atmosphere was warm. At the meeting, under the stars and surrounded by marabou weed and banana plants, the rotund president of the People’s Power in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo and his deputy were present.

The People’s Power emerged in 1974. It is a poor imitation of a Western parliament, where they play at practicing democracy. People go and raise a long list of complaints, which are very rarely solved.

That night, someone tape-recorded the Calvary Assembly. The local chiefs expressed themselves so badly,  mixing lies with the prepared government speech and partisan jargon, that it seemed like it was taken from a film script by Berlanga. They appear to propose ideas. The reality is that they impose them. They discussed issues such as lack of doctors, the possibility of having a market, and what to do to get a phone.

If it were not for the poor audio, it would have been worth listening to. It is a sample of Cuban democracy. The best in the world. According to Fidel Castro.

Iván García y Laritza Diversent.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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