As the days have gone by since the passage of hurricanes Gustav and Ike the deficiencies have been accentuated. Food shortages, reflected in the absence of fresh fruits and vegetables on Cuban tables, begin to mark an anxious time among the population that—far from seeing any hope of overcoming this new crisis—also witnesses the virtual disappearance of another of their traditional sources of supply: the black market. True, almost everyone assumes that when the persecution campaign launched by the authorities against illegal traders who prosper on the needs of the population “passes,” opportunities to buy powdered milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, sausage and other products sold under the table will return; but in the meantime we have all had to tighten our belts again, some more than others.
Moreover, the establishment of an official price list in the markets for agricultural products, just days after the two cyclones, has shockingly depressed supplies and so increased demand, which will shortly lead to hyperinflation, in both the legal market and black market, as soon as the situation in which we’re now submerged improves. The recent arbitrary price increase for fuel also directly raises the cost of transporting supplies from rural areas, which is artificially added to the hurricanes’ effects on agriculture. Not even the twisted economics of state socialism can escape the natural mechanisms of the market. “Conscience,” to which they constantly appeal, is not only a deficit item, but also, because of its low caloric value, does not enjoy great demand among the population.
And amid the hardship that grows epidemically, the type of people common in these situations reappear: the opportunistic, the intransigent, the combative, the naïve and the dissatisfied (those from before and the new ones, now joining in because their brains are connected to their digestive systems). However, the worst of these types, the ones who really try my patience, are the cheerful. Yes, because although some may doubt it, there are still many Cubans who suffer from the “seal” effect: trapped in fetid water up to their necks, they still find reasons to be cheerful and even applaud. They are the born disseminators of the philosophy of misery, the incurables bereft of perspective: In reality we’re not so badly off, there are many who have it worse. A philosophy the authorities know very well and take care to strengthen through the media. The happy type is never a dangerous element.
The closest example I can think of to illustrate the effect of this philosophy is an acquaintance, whose name will not be mentioned, who in the middle of a telephone conversation told me her personal accomplishment of the day. After a nice walk in the sun in the hot (and inhospitable) Alamar neighborhood, and after waiting in a fairly long line, she had managed to buy two scrawny little bunches of chives. She was radiant and optimistic. Things weren’t so bad, she had managed to get something to put in the food to give it flavor. I confess that I was depressed which is not my nature. But I cannot understand how a pretty girl of 30 can consider herself successful because of the acquisition of a bunch or two of chives. The oddest thing is that this person is economically better off than the average Cuban and thus, at least in the near term, is safe from the hunger and hardship that threaten the lives of others. And it’s not that I have anything against chives or against the rights of others to enjoy their own particular pleasures; I simply note in these small details of daily life the point to which individuals are manipulated, not only by repression and fear, but by having sown in their conscience the unconscience’s own spiritual misery. For myself, I think I’ll never again see a bunch of chives without feeling a deep and sincere sorrow for my young friend.