People’s loss of faith in the system is already a widespread phenomenon that can be seen even in the most inconsequential matters. Recently, a disturbing “ball” was circulating throughout Cuba, according to which certain products sold in CUCs,* some of them basic necessities, would see a significant increase in price. The reaction was not long in coming: The state of alarm and unrest spread to all who heard this new threat to their already diminished purchasing power. The popular outcry was one of unanimous protest, even from the most complacent or timid who are almost always reluctant to express opinions contrary to official decisions. The most recent and notable increase in the price of oil and gasoline, established here in recent days under the pretext of “adapting” to international reality at a time when the price of hydrocarbons has begun to drop on the world market, did nothing to help dispel the general unease.
Shortly after the denial of this new rumor was broadcast on the television news—not in the pages of the national press—spirits were mollified to some extent, but not enough to banish the suspicion that the authorities had launched the “ball” themselves with the intention of making a final decision in accordance with the popular reaction.
There are more than a few elements that tend to support such a suspicion, the fruit of popular experience. In the past, at different stages, there have been sudden and arbitrary increases in costs, also preceded by the so-called “balls” listing the new and onerous prices rumored to be planned. On these past occasions there were, effectively, taxes applied on the dollar (the principal currency of family remittances from abroad) and on almost all of the products sold in CUCs. This time, a suspicious “disappearance” of basic essentials from store shelves—such as vegetable oil, tomato sauce or detergent—usually a prelude to abusive price increases, pointed to the real possibility that such increases would occur.
The present moment, however, is another one; emotions are heated and the threat of another sustained and serious food shortage keeps the population in a state of permanent anxiety. The ghost of the euphemistically called Special Period,* that spread material misery and transformed the spirit during the harshest years of the last decade, has been recorded, as few other episodes, in the collective memory of Cubans and has reappeared in many homes because of the devastation caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. It is not prudent at this time to stoke the fire. It was not for nothing that the “Bastion” strategic exercises and the pathetic celebrations with thin caldosa soup that mark every anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were suspended this year. No expense wasted to play little war games; no popular commotions that could spiral out of control.
On the other hand, the government’s obstinacy, which assumes the right to decide at its discretion whether to accept or reject the aid being offered, basing such decisions on purely political interests, has clearly established that the average citizen is just a bargaining chip in the power structure, merely a simple hostage of politics, as well as that the projected and always unattainable happy future promised by the revolution cannot meet—despite the eternal phrases of “principles and dignity” as supreme values—the expectations of an impoverished people who suffer chronic fatigue syndrome in the midst of a wait without end. There is no dignity in misery, which many, at least, are learning, albeit belatedly.
The truth is that, after the official denial of the “ball,” almost everyone shrugs and smiles sardonically in a gesture that amounts to: “See? They themselves threw it to see if we would bite.” And here we all know who “they” are.
CUCs: See footnote of previous entry.
Special Period: The difficult years in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Readers can google this phrase for more information.