He cleared his throat before explaining why they were meeting, in the sober drama that is rarely seen anymore. In his hands he held, like a script, the blue booklet with the guidelines for the Sixth Communist Party Congress, and behind the table those present included municipal and provincial officials. Before yielding the floor, he stressed that they should stick to what was written on these pages and only discuss economics. He stressed this last word to emphasize it, to ensure that they didn’t claim their right to “free association” or demand that they be allowed “to freely enter and leave the country.” E-CO-NO-MICS, he stressed again, widening his eyes and raising his eyebrows to emphasize it again, while staring directly at the most troublesome employees.
With such an introduction, the meeting became a tedious process, one more task added to the workday. Mechanically, dozens of arms went up when they were asked if they agreed with each point. Awkward silence followed the phrases, “Who is against it?” and a certain fatigue could be noted after each, “And who abstains?” Only one young man questioned the current prohibition against buying cars or houses, but a militant immediately took the floor to read a long eulogy to the figure of the Maximum Leader. And so it was every time someone pointed out a problem, others jumped in to emphasize the country’s achievements. The apologists were stationed equidistant around the auditorium and reacted as if they’d studied a script and rehearsed the choreography. The feeling of being at a staged assembly competed in intensity with the desire to leave — as soon as possible — to go home.
The next day the workplace had returned to its routine. A mechanic who had been sitting very close to the president no longer remembered a single one of the guidelines. The girl from the warehouse summed up the discussion of the previous afternoon for her friends with a simple, “Ah… more of the same.” And the manager’s chauffeur skeptically shrugged his shoulders when a colleague asked what had happened. Many experienced that day as sample of what will happen in the Conference Center next April, a sneak preview of the Cuban Communist Party Congress. In just a few months they will see the same staging unfold on their TV screens, but this time it was they themselves who were the actors, raising their hands in unanimity before the stern gaze of the director.