The Perverse Path of Repression

The Perverse Path of Repression / Agustin Valentin Lopez Canino

Agustin Valentin Lopez Canino, Translator: Unstated

L is for Liberty

"Good morning," said the woman with the thick voice and deep tone. My

sister responded in kind and the woman began offering medications for

sale. The clock indicated it was seven minutes past eight in the

morning. The twins had just left for . Yesterday a neighbor

commented on the shortage of books and notebooks in the schools and the

difficulty obtaining uniforms.

I stopped writing and went to the room where the woman was still

offering medications. I said hello and began observing her with

curiosity. She was corpulent. The mixed-race skin of her face suggested

someone in her sixties, but her appearance gave the impression of

virtuous . It was now eight minutes after eight. At schools around

the country the morning assembly had begun with the Young Pioneers

shouting, "Pioneers for communism. We will be like Che."

I observed the little nylon bag the woman held in her hands from which

she pulled out strips of pills and another small bag with injections

while my sister kindly told her about possible buyers in the neighborhood.

The day before I had asked two mothers about the issue of school

uniforms. One told me they were being sold for a coupon or a voucher

that you could get from the schools. For preschool they would let you

buy two uniforms for between fifteen and twenty pesos in national

currency.* After that you were not eligible to another until the second


The other woman said that in preschool they did not give you the coupon

because things were so disorganized and you had to buy it on the black

market where it never costs less than one-hundred pesos.

"But how?" I asked. "They provide a uniform for each child."

"That's how it is supposed to be," she said, "but sometimes it doesn't

work out that way. As long as they follow all the rules, regulations,

laws and intents in the black market, you have to pay."

It was now eight minutes past eight. The woman was still offering her

medications. I finally decided to ask her a question. "Ma'am, why are

you doing this?"

The woman was taken aback, almost frightened. "Look, they gave me this…

I only… It's for…" She was almost stuttering. She did not know what to

say or do. With obvious nervousness she moved to start gathering up the

medications, intending to go. I had caused her to feel uncertain. There

was fear in her eyes. The adrenaline was escaping through her dark skin.

She was thinking that I could be a government agent, a policeman or a

bandit. I tried to quietly calm her down.

"Listen, don't be afraid. You are under no obligation to answer me. I

don't mean you any harm. I am only interested in knowing why, in knowing

what it is like for people near the bottom. I am a defender of human

rights, concerned with social justice."

"Everyone who works should receive a decent salary so that they don't

turn to corruption," I added. "Elderly people like yourself should not

have to denigrate themselves in order to be able to enjoy a

much-deserved rest in the last phase of their lives. I think society

should reward them for their work by providing enough for them to have

some comfort in the few years they have left. But this society is

structured so that this does not happen. There is no accumulation of

capital, nor of property, that might provide an elderly person with some

well-being and security in life and meet their basic needs."

The woman's face changed shape, her fear turned to curiosity, her

adrenaline must have gone down to normal levels, but she still seemed

evasive, elusive. My sister finally put her at ease.

"This is my brother. I assure you that you can speak openly. There's no

problem," she said smiling.

The woman turned around and faced me, holding the little bag with the

medications. "I get these from pharmacies," she said. "They are

that can cost up to six CUC,* but I sell them for a lot less.

I was looking for something to make ends meet. So were the people who

gave them to me. This is how we all live. With our salaries we cannot

buy enough to eat."

"That is what I was looking for," I said. "The sincere truth."

As the woman started to open up, I saw an opening for my second

question. "Are you sure of the origins of these medications? Couldn't

they be counterfeit or tampered with?"

"No way," she said. "They come from the pharmacies and are sealed. They

are from people I trust and I don't sell them to just anyone, only to

people I trust."

Four more minutes had passed. It was now thirteen after eight. The

teachers must be starting class now, or scolding the first student who

talked to his neighbor or who blew a raspberry.

I told her that I have seen with my own eyes the tampering with and

packaging of a multitude of products in small, clandestine factories. On

occasion I have even been defrauded myself. It happens with foodstuffs

as well as with consumer products and basic necessities like soap,

toothpaste, detergent, perfumes, deodorant, soft drinks and alcoholic

beverages – including brand name rum – tobacco products and cigars.

The containers, labels and products are taken at different times and in

a variety of ways. Sometimes it is through outright burglary. In other

instances it is through the actions of a company's corrupt financial

officers, who cover up their embezzlement by cleverly cooking the books,

thereby avoiding being discovered by auditors who have not already been

bought off through bribery, extortion, lavish meals or gifts. Many of

these products end up in state-run hard currency stores through

arrangements with the stores' personnel. I can write about this because

I have been concerned enough about this phenomenon to find ways of

observing it. In many cases I have become involved with it in order to

discover how the process works.

In the 1990s bottles, labels and the rum itself were taken from a

factory in Santo Domingo. The rum, which was later secretly bottled,

appeared to be genuine, having been sealed at the factory. Personnel at

every level were involved in the operation. It was rumored that a

security agent from the area was able to buy his 1958 Chevrolet with

funds obtained from rum trafficking, though I never had direct contact

with the man to confirm this.

Many of those who drank this rum in Varadero were fooled. The

differences might have been minimal and virtually imperceptible, but

they were there. I could describe the manufacture and bottling of some

brand-name beers – Hatuey, Manacas, Polar – as well as soft drinks,

pasta products such as vermicelli and elbow macaroni, ham, cigars,

coffee… A large number of these products have made their way into the

web of state-run stores, thereby covering up their clandestine and

production. Almost all appear to be genuine, but their level of

quality and purity are minimal.

So many values have been lost. Conscience and dignity are in short

supply. Corruption has become so widespread that it does not surprise me

that medicines are being tampered with and plaster is being

unscrupulously added to aspirin.

"I don't want to cause you harm. I only want to be sure of the origins.

I am not going to you, though I don't approve of corruption. If

you are detained by the , they will apply the force of law or

demand a bribe. They won't care about the motives for your actions. I

need to know the why's," I told her. This made her feel more secure.

Then I asked my sister a question: "How are things here?" She said that

in Lisa things have not been going well for the Ladies in White. The

vendors say that, because of them, agents from the Ministry of the

Interior, the Technical Department of Investigation and state security

are all over the place. They can no longer sell their contraband

products on the street through the black market, so they have told the

Ladies to get lost, so they say.

She said a few other things that I did not hear. I was thinking about

how to explain to her truth as I know it. How to make these people

understand that becoming corrupt and denigrating themselves by acting

wretched and perverse instead of demanding their rights only leads to

misery and perdition?

The woman stood in front of me with her bag of medicines. Another minute

had passed. It was now 8:14. The teacher would be at the front of the

class now, asking for the attention of the boys and girls who tomorrow

will be adult and elderly, like the drug tamperers and clandestine

traffickers. Or like the pharmacy workers, or the mothers discussing the

need for school uniforms and the black market, or like this victim of

drug trafficking.

I looked at her directly, but her illiteracy in ethics and social

responsibility did not allow her to value the importance of this issue,

and she did not hold my gaze.

"Ma'am," I said, "It's not as they would have you believe. I know the

Ladies in White very well and what is really going on. Everything is not

being sent to them from the United States. They simply receive some help

from foreigners who have visited them and perhaps from some

organizations made up of honest and honorable Cubans who were expelled

from the country after having been denied their rights as citizens and

treated as pariahs by a barbarian and aberrant form of discrimination by

the regime. But this help has always been insignificant and much less

than what the State has received and is receiving, or what the families

of the five spies — the so-called Cuban Five– get for their political

trips and extravagant personal expenses compared to the rest of the


Negligible given the resources dedicated to the power to rebuke. The

Ladies in White are people who have had the courage and decency to speak

out for the rights of the people, for hers, and for all these old people

to be able to enjoy their retirement relaxing, or traveling with their

needs met and not having to smuggle drugs or other products to eat and

so those pharmacy workers receive a fair wage that meets their needs and

do not see the need for such denigration.

But it happens that government agents make them believe and use the

opportunity to create intrigue and disinformation and take advantage of

it all to deploy the police against the smuggling and blame it all on

the Ladies in White, so the corrupt people do not realize and against

those who are demanding everyone's rights there is a vicious circle of

denigration, and many of the acts of repudiation are perpetrated by this

corrupt and evil people.

She knows, that people who are part of the opposition can not buy from

the black market because they are constantly monitored so they can be

accused of some criminal offense and taken to , this, besides

fearing for their lives, poisoned or another product that could do

damage to them, and this not because I think it but because the Power

has shown that it doesn't want there to be any claimants of rights,

freedoms and justice.

The woman now looks at me a little surprised and almost cries, Really!

People do not know and they say other things, this is very bad and worse

every day, you have to do many bad things just to be able to eat.

Finally, I say to her, she can be sure that what I've said is true

because I know this firsthand, if someone needs clarifications she can

send them to me, and not to worry, I won't do her any harm. She turns

around and without letting go of the little sack with medicines and

leaves for another house in the neighborhood.

It's eight fifteen, two more minutes in the existence of this miserable

country with its satanic government.

Perhaps when the teacher turned back to the blackboard after her first

demand for respect the teenager blew another raspberry, a child learned

to add, a mother bought a uniform on the black market, my twins looked

around mischievously, thinking of their uncle who is not in the hands of

the dictatorship, some trafficker in medicines graduated from one of the

medical technical schools, or medical schools, and will gain the rights

he deserves, but he won't get it with his work and in the next few

minutes I will keep asking others, why?

Trying to shoo away the fear of the power that they have taped to people

as if it were another gene, to accomplish logical answers and transparency.

Note: I am not against the release of the Five Spies, as spies, as long

as they serve their sentences, a benevolent pardon would inflame the

perverse politics of the Castro dictatorship but would demonstrate once

again the shamelessness and prevarication in the case of the

imprisonment of the North American Alan and the public warning

they are trying to send via the Spaniard Carromero.

*Translator's note: There are two currencies in Cuba. Salaries are paid

in the "national currency," the peso, with the average salary equaling

about $20 US per month. The convertible peso, or CUC, is pegged at about

one-to-one to the dollar. Many basic essentials can only be purchased

legally with CUC's at government-run hard currency stores.

September 13 2012

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