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Psychologists agree on the definition of fear as an unpleasant feeling of perceiving imminent danger or anticipating it in advance. They have names for it: agoraphobia, claustrophobia, acrophobia, fear of loneliness, of strangers, darkness, death or castration. Faced with the fear, they explain, people fight, flee or become paralyzed.
I know many people traumatized by some fear. There is the one who was trapped in an elevator and will never ride in one again, the one who got an electrical shock and will not go near a power cord, the one who was bitten by a dog and fears the sound of barking. As Bernard Shaw said, “How little the surprise of the first shock mattered compared to the dread and horror of waiting for the second.” But there are worse cowards, those who hear the stories of being trapped, electrocuted or bitten and always take the stairs, who watch out for outlets and snouts. This is the fear of those who learn their lessons through the trauma of others.
You can be certain that in Cuba the vast majority of the people living on the island have never suffered on their own flesh direct repression by the government. A few have been taken to Villa Marista*, and many have even been visited and warned not to misbehave. Most people have not been dismissed from their jobs, or expelled from school because of their political views. In a tiny proportion of cases people have been refused permission to leave, and only 0.002% of the population is in prison on the grounds of conscience. The number of people who have been beaten or insulted at a rally is so small, compared to the atrocities in Rwanda, the abuses in the Gaza strip, or the outrages in Iraq, that it’s almost painful to denounce it.
Why then does an index finger cross the lips, eyes widen, or a look of horror reflect on the faces of my friends, when at their houses I commit the indiscretion of making a political comment within earshot of the neighbors? We already know where those who fight in the face of fear are; from those who fled we receive postcards and remittances; and the paralyzed are all around us, waiting to see what the brave ones do.
Villa Marista is a prison in Havana.
The resources, talent and time we have in life are always limited. For this reason, we must be cautious when the time comes to choose how to use them.
Many of the problems that we have could be corrected if we fixed a larger one of a general nature, shared by many Cubans, which we will call: Trying to “resolve” the problem. Another way to confront the matter is attacking only the consequences that affect us individually, leaving untouched the causes from which the problem originates. That will deal with my problem.
The most dysfunctional aspect of our society is that there are not many chances for individuals to find a path, without dangers, where they can channel their resources, their time and their talents – probably together with others – to try to solve the problem. Thus, everyone does his own thing, taking a chance on some low-risk illegality he can get away with, either bribing an official, “diverting” a state resource, falsifying a document, doing something “under the table,” buying in the black market that robs us of the insufficient common property, adulterating a product, evading a tax, and many other things, but always in the shadows, without protest, and never doing anything to solve the problem and better still, applauding (and collaborating with) those guilty of everything that is also my problem.
Four are the resources which a person in Cuba (and probably elsewhere) counts on to confront the difficulties that arise when we must have something to do with the bureaucratic apparatus of the State.
The first resource is the discipline, the infinite acquiescence that leads us to return every time they tell us, going all over the place, to all the offices, filling in the forms, meeting the requirements, and waiting. Waiting, while having the necessary understanding of the difficulties the country is going through, and having also the tolerance that is needed to understand that there are priority cases, that some who came after must go before. But the most important, the very definition of this resource, is to be permanently prepared for the point where nothing is resolved and to accept it, like the most normal thing, as if it were right.
The second resource is to have a good recommendation. When the boss says, “Take care of this compañero for me whose case is such and such,” suddenly all the doors open and the forms that didn’t exist appear, the turns that were taken are free, all the way to the supplies that the criminal imperialist blockade prevents us from having on hand. It is of the utmost importance never to act as if they are doing us a favor, but rather like one who is receiving exactly what he deserves. It is recommended not to look into the eyes of the people who have been waiting in line since the early hours and, if possible, at some point leave to see a sign of the power with which we are supposedly invested.
The third resource is “to facilitate” the effort of those colleagues who are dealing with the case. If, to solve the problem there are difficulties with transport, nothing is more advisable than providing gasoline, or lending the vehicle itself or, why not, giving money to transport people by taxi. It facilitates the process when we relieve the depression of whomever is dealing with it. A bottle of rum, some personal hygiene products this person can’t afford on his salary and the lack of which annoys him, an invitation to a restaurant or a nightclub where he could decompress and so return with new energy to his work. All this should be offered without the impression that we are bribing anyone, we are only facilitating things. When everything is resolved we must encourage those who were efficient with us, as one never knows when we might have to return to the same place with another problem.
The fourth resource is the protest. For that one must be well informed about the laws and regulations, have a firm and clear voice, and a constant readiness to hear the arguments of those with whom we are debating. In order to resolve things the protest must be based on the unyielding principles of the Revolution, never on the supposition that you have something resembling rights. One important clarification: Never protest in restaurants, they might spit on the food.
Life, with its infinite variations, sometimes puts us in the the situation of blending these resources…
Whenever I see certain intelligent and honest people intransigently defending this set of events usually called “the Cuban Revolution,” I have the suspicion that they must know some argument that is only accessible to insiders. There exists this secret argument and me? I’m an idiot or a great bastard or both simultaneously.
Clearly I am not referring to what is said in the daily Granma and repeated on the program Roundtable about the achievements in public health, education and social security, nor am I speaking of the vaunted internationalist spirit of the doctors, teachers and coaches who “bring their contribution to solidarity to any corner of the world.” No, I am not speaking of the propaganda appeals, but of a forceful ideological argument to continue supporting this process.
I wracked my brain until I came up with the old tenets of the French Revolution – Equality, Liberty, Fraternity – which, translated into contemporary political parlance, provoke the idea of trying to strike a balance between social justice (equality), and human rights (liberty). But the question immediately arises, where do we put fraternity?
The third leg of the stool was neither more nor less than fraternity, understood as a dose of human generosity that supposedly makes those who, thanks to liberty, climb the ladder economically and socially not crush the less favored. But fraternity is also understood as reciprocity so that the less favored, who would like to be the beneficiaries of equality, won’t try to obtain it by snatching the achievements of the talented ones who triumphed. In order to rely on this component one has to believe in it, and what happens (and here is the secret!) is that these intelligent and honest people have come to the conclusion that man is a ruthless beast incapable of exercising fraternity, and therefore must choose between imposing equality to the detriment of liberty or establishing liberty at the cost of renouncing equality.
Following this reasoning, social justice, education, health care and social security free to all, can only be achieved at the expense of economic and political freedoms, while the realization of civil, political and economic rights for individuals can only come through the exploitation of man by man while the poor sink deeper and deeper. Fraternity, like an harmonious element joining two opposite poles, must be understood as entelechy – an expression of perfection and self-realization – that doesn’t exist. That is the secret argument.
The novelty of this assertion is that we have always heard the opposite, namely that the innocent defenders of utopia are those who believe man is good and generous by nature, while the evil proponents of the market see only a wolf behind every man If the authors of this process had believed in fraternity as a tangible reality in the soul of human beings, everything would have been different.
Eureka! Now I discover the secret argument but I don’t join the chorus of applause.