I subscribe to a newsletter from Cubanet. Most of the dispatches are small-bore stuff--like random clips from rowdy Metro section. Today, it offered something a bit different, an essay: "Cubans on the Brink of a Panic Attack." It feels a bit over-the-top. But then, it also feels accurate:
HAVANA, Cuba - August 12 (Richard Roselló / www.cubanet.org) - Shortwave radio broadcasts to Venezuela and Central America were interrupted for two days this week when someone stole aluminum insulators from transmission towers. A source at the towers, located in San Felipe, south of Havana, said the thief slipped through state security and obviously stole the insulators to sell them for the aluminum content. The towers also carry a signal which interrupts reception of the U.S. government's Radio Martí and TV Martí signals from Florida. "The interruption occurred on Monday and Tuesday," said the source. 3) Cubans on the brink of a panic attack Rafael Ferro Salas, Abdala Press PINAR DEL RÍO, Cuba - July (www.cubanet.org) - Six o'clock in the morning, Cuba. Felipe, 77 years old, leaves his house. He arrives at the corner cafeteria and waits for his first customer to arrive. A 20-year old mulato man approaches him. Felipe puts his hand in his pocket and takes out two cigarettes. The mulato pays him.
By the end of a half hour a dozen persons have bought cigarettes sold by the elderly Felipe. Everything seems normal, but it's not; the old man sells the cigarettes secretly. This kind of selling is forbidden in Cuba. At mid-morning, the old man goes home after buying the newspaper. "Today was good," he says to me. "There were no police, nor inspectors with their fines, but I never stop being nervous."
At the other end of the city lives Miriam, 32 years old. She's a black woman who has a two-year old boy. She's single. She works at the place where kerosene is sold for household stoves (abundant in Cuba). Miriam's salary doesn't provide her enough to live on and maintain her son, so she seeks alternatives amid high risks.
Near the end of her work shift a sixty-year old woman visits her. She hands over a big can and Miriam fills it with kerosene. The woman pays and leaves satisfied. She was sold her share of kerosene a week ago using her ration card. But it didn't last. So she comes to Miriam and she sells her the extra under the table.
"If we aren't lucky and an inspector catches us, they'll fire me and impose a fine on her," Miriam tells me. "I do everything for my son, the money they pay me doesn't even allow me to clothe him. I get very nervous when I do this. I live alone with my son, and if they fire me from my job or jail me, I don't know what I'd do."
Orlando Zamora is a young man who graduated in computer science two years ago. He is self-employed and works at home writing graduate theses for which he is well paid. Since his graduation he hasn't found work, so writing theses allows him to survive.
I found him one afternoon in the park and he told me he hadn't done any work the whole day. I asked him if his clientele had slackened and he answered me: "There's never a lack of clients, there's always someone who's going to graduate. What happens is I'm afraid to start writing and have a power outage break my computer. Then I'll have to throw it in and die of hunger."
"The power outages make you nervous, don't they?" I asked him in jest. He responded very seriously.
"They have everyone nervous, pal. I think we Cubans will have blackouts for the rest of our lives. It seems the one we'll have after we die isn't enough."
Thinking of what he just told me makes me nervous, too. I realize I've also been attacked today by the syndrome Cubans are dragging behind for some time: the panic attack.
Walking the city is like walking in the 1960s, although I was too young then to do it alone. My mother was at my side. I remember she walked nervously. It seemed we all walked nervously. It was the month of October and we were on the brink of an explosion. Later it became known as the October Missile Crisis.
We Cubans have never stopped being nervous after January 1959. The 1960s arrived and we enlisted in obligatory foreign wars. The 1980s came with collapses and firing squads in high circles. The 1990s left us without any kind of hopes. The new millenium opened its doors but things continue to cling to an enforced stagnation. Cubans debate amidst uncertainty with something in common: we all live on the brink of a panic attack.