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No littering

The theme of social indiscipline occupied an important space on the national television news this morning. Music played too loud, trash thrown off balconies, graffiti on public walls, the rubble in the middle of the street, and many more examples from daily life, especially in the country’s capital. We learned that there are “Operations Groups” dedicated to detecting and punishing such irregularities.

Many of these indisciplines, dare I say most, are the reflection of a combination of two elements: on the one hand the lack of conditions to make things as they should be, and on the other the lack of civic education that leads citizens to behave in an uncivilized way. I have seen some tourists (obviously foreigners) walk for blocks and blocks carrying the little paper wrappings from peanuts, while local pedestrians happily throw them anywhere at all. Neither ever found a bin to dispose of their trash. And some residents, when they’re forced to solve their problem of access to the sewer, have had no choice but to cut into the street, thus creating a new pothole in the city.

In fact, one could say that “nothing justifies” the commission of an indiscipline that affects the community, but the truth is that many of them have at least one explanation. And, indeed, there is an overarching general explanation related to this “acimarronada“* conduct of thousands of Cubans every day, and it is the lack of resources available to address our problems, coupled with little ability to participate in the decisions that affect society as a whole.

As always, duties and rights must go together. When the State only seems interested in citizens fulfilling their duties, it entrenches them in their rights and they ignore all the rules. Such a situation is a breeding ground for other excesses, unjustifiable and difficult to explain.

*Translator’s note: “Acimarronada” comes from word cimarrones, runaway slaves. It refers to the way Cubans pretend to do and think one thing, but in reality are always thinking of fleeing.

27 August 2013

Change

Perhaps the most interesting and at times heated discussion of today with regards to Cuba is that around whether or not it is lawful to recognize that changes are occurring in the country. In this area the most frequent responses are usually: “Nothing has changed here,” or “Things are changing, but not enough.” What I haven’t heard anyone say is: “We’ve already changed everything that needs to be changed.”

Someone told me that in North Korea the most recent of the Kims authorized six new styles of haircuts as part of what he considers a process of reforms. I don’t dare assert that this is true, but I like the example. One can’t deny that a measure of this type, apart from highlighting the existing level of prohibitions, would have to have brought ounces of joy to Koreans, especially the youngest.

I remember how some foreign correspondents accredited in Havana celebrated, almost with jubilation, the news that we Cubans could now legally contract for cellphone service. Suddenly the cancellation of a xenophobic ban, which for years had placed nationals in a humiliating and discriminatory situation, was exposed, along with the permission to stay in hotels, as an unequivocal sign that Raul’s reforms were serious.

Later, in drips and drabs, we were authorized to sell houses and cars, the list of approved self-employment occupations was expanded, the hiring of labor was permitted, and some extensions were made in the matter of land leased in usufruct.

More recently, the long awaited and controversial migration and travel reform was approved, and some places were opened where one can connect to the Internet. Right now the so-called “non-agricultural cooperatives” have the illusion that they will be the prelude to small and medium-sized private businesses.

Surely I’ve forgotten some aspect that could be incorporated in the rosary on which the prayers for change are said, especially in some academic circles, however it is not in the tiresome enumeration of the previously mentioned measures where it can be demonstrated that something is moving in Cuba. The change is seen in the results.

Starting with cellphones, I must say that the vast majority of opponents, independent journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and other spheres of civil society, use this tool systematically, especially to communicate any complaints or news via text messages or tweets.

The decrease in the dependence on the State sector, personified by nearly half a million self-employed in the country, has produced a change of expectations in the work environment, with deep social and political connotations.

The now numerous trips abroad by the majority of the opposition leaders and civil society activists, has contributed to breaking what was, until now, a monopoly on the export of a vision of the country in international events, and has encouraged a stream of contacts at the highest level between Cubans on the Island and those in the diaspora.

Moreover, and no less important, the middle class is no longer demonized, and taking advantage of the decrease in prejudice against them they have started to find their own spaces, initially to exercise their inherent consumer exhibitionism; sooner or later to develop new external paradigms and to negate all the “New Man” rhetoric, proclaimed by the now-exhausted social engineering of Communist affiliation.

All this has happened in just seven years. The most important argument to deny that these things can be seen as “the change,” and even simply as “changes,” is that the only intention of their promoters is to stay in power.

I share this view in reference to the intention of those who govern, but the paradox is that they have understood that the only way to stay in power is to cede it; and the governed — that is us — we have realized that it is no longer enough to repress us, monitor us, arbitrarily imprison us, to organize hordes to stage repudiation rallies against us. We know they are ceding and we have the civic obligation to take advantage of every inch, as adolescents with authoritarian parents have always done.

If we aren’t capable of seeing and appreciating the cracks that we ourselves have helped to open and widen; if we keep our eyes fixed on what has not changed without noticing what is changing, we run the risk of acting like the elephant that keeps walking in circles around the axis where it once was bound, not realizing that the old rotten stake can no longer hold.

13 August 2013

Link to Original Blog in Spanish

Please help translate

Reinaldo Escobar (1947), an independent journalist since 1989, writes from Cuba where he was born and continues to live. He received his degree in Journalism from the University of Havana in 1971 and subsequently worked for different Cuban publications. His articles can be found in various European publications, and in the digital magazines "Cuba Encuentro" and "Contodos."

Desde Aquí/From Here is a personal undertaking born from the need to write about those topics that fill my head every day but that cannot find a space in the official Cuban media.

reinaldoescobar@desdecuba.com

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