Uncomfortable questions


I skirt the edge of my building, avoiding walking under the balconies, because the kids throw condoms filled with urine to kill the boredom.  A man with his daughter is carrying a bag that’s dripping a mix of grease, water and blood.  They’re coming from the butcher’s, where the line announces that some rationed product came in this morning.  The two climb the stairs happily carrying their trophy meat.  The wife is probably already cutting the onions, while breathing a sigh of relief that the protein is back, after several days’ absence.

I’m behind them and I manage to hear the little girl ask, “Papi, how many chickens have you eaten in your life?”  I see the bewildered face of the father, who’s made it to the sixth floor, sweating from every pore.  His answer is a little brusque.  “How would I know that?  I don’t keep a count of the food.”  But the young girl insists.  Evidently she’s learning to multiply and divide, so she wants to take apart the world and explain it—completely—with pure numbers.  “Papi, if you’re 53 and every month you get one pound of chicken at the butcher’s, you just have to know how many months you’ve lived.  When you have that number you divide it by four pounds, which is more or less what a chicken usually weighs.”

I follow the mathematical formula she’s developed and I figure I’ve eaten 99 chickens in my 33 years.  The man interrupts my calculations, telling her, “Sweetie, when I was born chickens weren’t rationed.”   I start thinking about how I grew up with the shackles of rationing attached to both ankles but, thanks to the black market, the diversion of resources from State enterprises, the shops that sell only in convertible pesos, the trading of clothes for food, and a ton of parallel tracks, I don’t know the exact amount I’ve digested.  As I hurry past and hear the doubting phrase from the little Pythagoras: “Oh, Papi, do you expect me to believe that before, in the butcher shops, they sold you all the chicken you wanted…”


61 thoughts on “Uncomfortable questions

  1. Pingback: Visit Dystopia - Armando Bronca

  2. It’s tragic that Cubans have lived so long without freedom, with no rights.

    It’s also tragic that the United States is heading towards becoming just like Cuba. It will be sad that so many Cubans risked their lives to get to the U.S. only to have it become another country ruled by dictators.

  3. I dont know how many of you that have seen the cuban soap-opera (novela) “Al compas del son” , but it deals with the batista era and the problems in that novela with harrazment of the press, students, abuse of power, prositutes (el solar), etc etc is just an exact copy of the problems cubans have today (and have had for a long time). I wonder how many cubans actually interpreted that novela in the same way as I did, namely as a criticism of fidel instead of a tribute.
    Its kind a copy of the Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

  4. #55 — THANK YOU!!! I am NOT a computer programmer and your help is greatly appreciated!

  5. Translator
    Any time this site get broken on formatting or anything you are welcome to write me for help.
    You got my email.

    I am a computer programmer.

  6. Just to make an analogy here

    Let’s assume Fidel Castro is a Slave owner with 100 slave
    he decide to give them their freedom
    and tells them ok I will give you free education and free health care and in exchange you have to work for me for free or very little money maybe sufficient for you to be able to eat.
    If you abandon my farm you will be consider a traitor and can never return.
    If I give you education and you are a doctor or other profession I will ask sacrifices from you because I need to get oil from Venezuela or other things from other countries.

    All of this we will do for a better future for all of us.

    But If you talk bad about me I sent you to prison and everything the other farms owners are saying about you not being free are lies!

    To think there is still 11 million people living like this!
    I feel sorry for Venezuelans they do not know what they are getting into.

  7. Andy

    you Sir are a quick learner!!


    Precisely that is the reason they place kids as young as 10 and 11 in boarding schools and also parents did not had any other choice for their education. That is what happened in Pinar del Rio. I am sure everywhere else was similar.
    Once there they were brainwash for 15 days (in my school they will allow me to go every 15 days home for 2 days Saturday and Sunday)

    I was in a good school what they used to call “Escuela Vocacional” “vocacional school” (In this schools they place the best students) and also had better teachers other kids did not have my luck.
    My brother for example was send to a school similar to mine but it was very far away in Sandino (That’s the far east of Pinar del Rio) and the teachers were very bad.

    In Havana kids were sent for a few month also to work in tobacco in Pinar del Rio and possibly to other places.

    Their idea was to form the new man thru work.
    (work without pay) (what the called new man )

    I will call now a brain wash SLAVE!!

    I guess they would never think that once those kids grow up they will realize on their own what was wrong!

    They almost got me convince when I was 11!


    I remember I use to see wrong things happening. Like cooks an teachers stealing food assign to us and how things were not working.
    For example one the cooks was feeding pigs close to the school from the food that we did not eat I guess he had a vested interest in making bad food! :D
    He probably made some money there.
    Those are the things they never thought would happend. The in predictable, the things you can not planned for.
    As you say before a teacher may have a hard time just controlling little kids how could you control 11 million people?

    Their recipie is


    “Brain Washing”



    “Manipulation of truth”


    “elimination of independent sources of information”

    The Fear started at the beginning of the revolution
    with “PAREDON de fusilamientos” equivalent to the being sent as food for the lions in the Roman Circus but in Cuba they did not need lions (They have Che and others for that).

    You see nowadays they have goons following Yoani.

    That’s how they keep themselves in power for 50 years.

  8. # 31
    plus all the potatoes, rice, beans, sugar, oil, coffee and milk (for kids), you could want.

    about those POTATOES

    Woops… sorry… here’s today’s news fresh from the horse’s mouth (excerpts — with extremely rough translations):

    Papas por la libreta de racionamiento

    LA HABANA, Cuba, 26 de febrero, (Frank Correa / http://www.cubanet.org) -Luego de haber capitaneado la lista de productos ausentes en los agromercados por buen tiempo, en el día de ayer trajeron a La Habana el primer cargamento de papas para vender a la población.

    TRANSLATION — After having been missing for a long time… the first potatoes showed up in Havana

    La cola frente … creció en proporciones inusuales… por ser la primera vez en el año que el estado vende este preciado tubérculo.

    TRANSLATION — The line grew to unusual length…. the first time this year the precious tuber is for sale….

    Antes de comenzar la venta hubo un murmullo general y protestas por parte de los consumidores, cuando el administrador de “El Puesto” escribió con tiza en la tablilla de información que la papa se vendería a razón de libra por consumidor nada más, y exigió de forma rigurosa que los compradores debían presentar su libreta de racionamiento.

    TRANSLATION — before the sale started consumers started to complain and protest because of the amount of potatoes they would get, and the firm requirement to present their ration books.

    Se había vuelto una costumbre prescindir de esta libreta para comprar papas y venderla sin limitaciones de cantidad… Hace poco los kioscos particulares que antes vendían viandas, frutas y vegetales, fueron demolidos luego de permanecer por un periodo de varios meses cerrados por falta de productos.

    TRANSLATION — It had been the custom to sell potatoes without limit… but no more folks.. and all the other fruit and vegetable vendors have been shut down for lack of products.

    Una libra de papas equivale a aproximadamente a sólo dos papas y esa es la cantidad asignada por la libreta de racionamiento a cada consumidor.

    TRANSLATION (AND HERE’S THE KICKER) — A pound of potatoes is only about two potatoes {well at least they’re nice BIG potatoes} and THAT IS THE AMOUNT ALLOWED EACH CONSUMER.

    A muchos les pareció ridículo esperar una hora de cola para llevar cantidad tan ínfima.

    TRANSLATION — To many it seemed ridiculous to stand in line so long for so little {here we have the complete waste of people’s lives forced to stand in line for almost nothing}

    Las protestas y los comentarios se hicieron agresivos, pero los elementos de “respuesta pasiva” -técnica utilizada por el gobierno para neutralizar los síntomas de malestar y disgusto en la población, para lo cual emplea retirados de las Fuerzas Armadas, el Ministerio del Interior y los viejos militantes comunistas que abundan en las colas- hicieron su labor, manifestando que algo era mejor que nada, que esto sucedía por ser el primer envío del año y tenían que racionarlo para que alcanzara para todos, que ya era hora de ponerle fin al robo y a la malversación de los empleados estatales sobre los productos que el estado produce con tanto esfuerzo y sacrificio para el pueblo que “trabaja y construye”.

    TRANSLATION {and the best for last} — so folks in line got a little nasty… but the government knew they would and the line was well seeded with retired army, MININT folks and old communist militants… who threatened their fellow citizens to make them shut up.



Comments are closed.