News and Facts about Cuba

When the Census Taker Comes Cubans Lie

Yoani Sanchez – Award-winning Cuban

When the Census Taker Comes… Cubans Lie

Posted: 09/07/2012 2:37 pm

CENSUS: Population and

Two smiling young people explain in a TV commercial the advantages of

the 2012 Population and Housing Census. They speak of the need to have

updated and reliable statistics about our society. To end the brief

spot, they chant in chorus a phrase where they claim that, "Between

September 15th and 24th we will count everyone." Which immediately leads

the viewer to reflect that it's not the same for them to count us as to

count on us. But beyond the "Freudian slips" that are evident in the

official language, concern takes us down another path. Cubans don't

trust inspections, we have a strong suspicion of counts and inquiries

within our homes. We divide our existence between the legal — and

public — zone, and the other, plagued with illegalities in order to

survive. This is the main explanation for why we don't always greet

polls with pleasure.

Under other conditions, a census shouldn't worry us but rather please

us. Because it's a statistical tool that provides the citizenry with

data about itself. The number of houses, how many inhabitants of one

gender or the other, the growth rate of the population… and so many

other figures that reveal the achievements and shortcomings of a nation.

However, in the case of our country, it is very difficult to separate a

simple inventory from the consequent State control it generates.

Impossible to unlink an inquiry — however ingenuous and anonymous it

seems — from its most feared counterpart: surveillance. Especially with

regards to all the objects and resources of "doubtful provenance" that

underpin our daily existence. Thus, a good share of Cubans will end up

lying on various questions posed by the enumerators, and others will

refuse to participate in the census altogether. The final results, then,

will be a mix of the approximations, omissions and falsehoods offered by

many of the respondents to avoid revealing the reality of who they are

or what they possess.

After inquiring of several friends and neighbors, I corroborated that

people are not disposed to confess everything that the National Office

of Statistics wants to know. One friend, who has been able to repair her

house from the profits of illegally selling clothes, explained to me,

without embarrassment, "I'll put the flat-screen TV in the bedroom and

tell my son to hide his laptop." She immediately added, "When they ask

what we live on, I'll tell them the 420 Cuban pesos (less than $20 U.S.)

my husband earns each month." And then, "Ahh… and if they inquire

about the brand of my refrigerator, I'll lie to their faces and tell

them it's a Chinese Haier… even though from the living room you can

see the South Korean LG logo." But most complicated for her will be if

they ask about her brother, his wife and their little girl, who will try

to not be at home when the census takers come because they are living

illegally in Havana. When the enumerators leave her house they will

surely have a very different idea of the standard of living and way of

life of my astute friend. And that is precisely what she wants, that

they think black is white, up is down, and today is tomorrow. Because

from the time she was a little girl she was taught that to tell the

truth is to single yourself out and to give information to the State is


Translating Cuba is a compilation with Yoani and other Cuban

bloggers in English.

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