An old friend, who has been close to me since the days of primary school and whose luck in life has been erratic, has warned me: “Don’t go out with that chain around your neck…. To steal it someone can jab you.” In the Havana language of today a jab is a stab on one side of the thorax. The chain in question, though it is gold, has very fine links and belonged to my mother, who inherited it from her mother, and which she wanted to give me in the already faraway days in which I started my senior high studies and I became an “adult.” Since then I have always worn it like my talisman, as a sign of my identity and of the material connection with my mother’s love: it has been with me in those sugar cane cutting stints with which I started practicing my then recently acquired adulthood, during my time at the university, throughout the endless year I spent in Angola as a war correspondent, during the trips I have later made inside and outside the island; always with me for more than 40 years. I know I’m thinking whether I should continue wearing it or not: if it’s worth being attacked, wounded, for being deprived of an object whose value is more symbolic and spiritual than material.
My friend’s advice has not been gratuitous or alarmist: his knowledge of “how things are in the street” – that’s also what is said in the Havana language of these times – allows him to know through empirical but well-founded means that the levels of social violence have been increasing during these years and that something that previously could be resolved with a snatch (the theft of a handbag), today can be done using more drastic methods.
We all know that the so-called sensationalist press in charge of reflecting and making public the most notable acts of violence occurring in a society does not exist in Cuba. Neither is it easy to gain access to trustworthy information about the percentages of crimes committed in the country. However, none of these conditions prevents us, through alternative means or someone’s information about “how things are in the street,” from having the perception that the Cuban society of the last two decades has become more violent than before the 1990s.
Just a few weeks ago the island was moved by the news of the murder, with no reason and sadistically, of a young rock musician from Camagüey, Mandy, the son of writer and blogger Pedro Armando Junco, who through his means circulated the unfortunate news. Some days later, I found out directly about the robbery with force committed in the home of some close friends, who were stolen almost all their most valued goods. And, by word of mouth I just found out about the murder (I cannot certify it because of the source) of a woman nearby Batabanó who, by what is known, reminded me of the excessive violence of the protagonists of the most famous work of Truman Capote, the non-fiction novel In Cold Blood.
Were there ever murders, robberies with force and casually, thefts and fights in Cuba? Actually, they never stopped happening, like in any society. The only difference is that according to percentages and by life experience, we all knew that Cuban society was one of the safest in the world…and that despite possible increases in violence, it continues being so.
One of the reasons that the indices of violence have remained low in Cuba has been the non-existence of drug trafficking (despite the fact that drugs are sold and consumed) and of mafias and organised gangs. But, at the same time, the reasons for a possible increase of crimes are in plain view of everyone: the impoverishment of a notable sector of the population because of the loss of the value of money (and of the work with which that money is obtained or used to be obtained) and the consequent moral waste that poverty brings with it and that was strengthened with the loss or alteration of previously established social paradigms and which today are rather deteriorated.
With the economic crisis of the 1990s Cuban society lost some of its previously established conditions and the most painful of all was the loss of the real value of the national currency with which almost all Cubans supported themselves and with the one a great majority still try to sustain themselves today. The survival strategies that started being put into practice have had among their modalities those of “living from inventions” or that of “resolving no matter what,” concrete manifestations in the re-emergence of prostitution, the theft of State assets (the famous “diversion of resources” that does not stop), eking out a living in activities that do not involve work and, of course, with no connection with the official sphere, whose wages continue being insufficient for a cost of living that has multiplied by many times (a beverage that before cost 10 cents today costs, at least, 10 pesos!!!).
In terms of ethics one can also observe a deterioration of established and necessary values, which range from the simple “abuse of noise” that a neighbour lover of the reguetón submits us, to throwing waste from running cars, to the notion that one can live without working and even live better than if one works (unless the workplace provides employees with deviated resources). Add to that – among other factors – the crisis of the Cuban family structure, harassed by the crowding caused by the lack of housing, internal emigration and the results of an educational experiment in which many young people far from being formed are deformed and today are much more violent beings or capable, at least, of assuming that they can live under the law of the least effort (and it is not by chance, for example, that there are scandals of academic frauds that have appeared in recent years, which could be just the tip of an iceberg in whose submerged mass grades are sold to the students, among other evils).
Cuban society of recent years has initiated a battle in search of an improved economy of the nation, but the government itself recognises that the results have been more than discreet (the country’s famous pending subject). But so many years of economic shortages and moral wearing away cause diverse eruptions and one of the most explosive can be the increase of violence among persons, with such tragic results as the aforementioned. And, as I have said on other occasions, the solution to this crossroad is not repression or the old slogans of vigilance…because neither one nor the other improves the living conditions of the persons who opt for resolving their personal and family economic problems through the drastic means of violence.
Meanwhile, I have put away the chain my mother gave me and have used for so many years. I am not as naïve or sentimental to risk, by wearing my chain, getting stabbed, as my old friend warned me. (2015)
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