The Cuban State Keeps Complaints at the Bottom
September 27, 2013
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — A new short film invites Cuban citizens to take a more
active attitude towards the poor services and mistreatment caught sight
of in certain State institutions.
The entire plot unfolds in the waiting room of an unspecified government
institution, where a secretary "keeps" the order. Before her, we see a
group of people, presumably waiting in line to go through a bureaucratic
procedure of sorts. There is something strange about all of their faces:
they have no mouths.
A person enters the waiting room through a back door and hands the
secretary a package. Obviously, it's a bribe that opens the door to the
solution to his problem. Only one person among those who wait patiently,
the only one whose mouth hasn't been scrubbed off, reacts on seeing
this. He rubs the faces of the other people in the waiting room, making
their faces full again and thus rescuing them from their condition of
defenseless citizens. It looks as though justice will prevail at last.
The underlying thesis of this short film is that the main reason behind
such corruption and mistreatment is the indolence of lower officials,
that the problem lies at the base of Cuba's pyramidal system, and that
citizens interested in improvement have the power and the obligation to
fix the problem.
A similar viewpoint was expressed by the press in connection with the
issue of swindles at different food and other goods markets. Cuba's
official press insists that, in order to solve the problem, consumers
must simply begin to defend their rights at that level.
But it's not that simple.
Let us suppose that the secretary and all other government officials in
this short film did their jobs professionally, there, at the base of the
institutional pyramid, without accepting bribes or any kind of
compromise. Cuban citizens would continue to be just as helpless under a
totalitarian bureaucracy that subjugates them with a whole range of
laws, resolutions, circulars, prohibitions, regulations and other
We should add that these same citizens approach these institutions
knowing that they are dealing with "higher authorities", that they are
going to trade blows with the State, who's always right, and that the
mechanisms designed to process any complaints are operated by people who
have the same interests as those responsible for the problem in the
To directly confront the government official that holds the solution to
your specific problem is, thus, something of a bad idea. To top things
off, those who have these problems and approach a government office to
solve them don't identify with one another and generally mistrust each
other. What they are thinking, rather, is that the others will do any
egotistical thing to solve their own problems.
Beyond sharing some superficial or angered comments about the problems
they have in common, they are on their own, divided. It is the exact
same dilemma prisoners face, and it is the result of the system that has
been imposed on them, where the strongest prevails, through a position
of power established, encouraged or tolerated by the State itself.
On the other hand, bureaucrats, venders and market administrators, like
functionaries who make decisions in the spheres of housing,
communications, health, education, employment and others, show
remarkable unity. In the meantime, the possibility of "pulling strings"
through friends, bribes and other measures rifts applicants, users,
customers, students, patients and others apart.
The hero who takes out a measuring scale at a market to verify the
weight of the product sold to them arouses surprise and concerns over
possible reprisals. State employees are afraid to rock the boat at their
place of work.
The poor fellow who has no connections and doesn't even have enough to
buy some peanuts on the street, languishes while waiting decades for the
system – the same system to which they have devoted a lifetime of work –
to fix their roof, which threatens to come crashing down at any moment.
In the best of cases, someone sends a letter of complaint to a
newspaper, which publishes it and makes a big fuss about the whole
business. On occasion, this gets a prompt reaction – but under no
circumstances does it get rid of the problem.
How different things would be, however, if consumers, students, patients
and applicants didn't hesitate to approach an entity that defended their
rights, or to found one, on seeing that the existing institution didn't
exactly meet their needs.
A network, or more than one network, organized by the interested
parties, a horizontal and democratic institution recognized under the
law, independent from the State or government, responding only to the
interests of the population – would be an organization worthy of any
society that considers itself democratic.
It would certainly not be a miracle cure, but the rights of citizens
would profit enormously from a structure of this nature. Its services,
sustained by debates, complaints, negotiations or, failing all that,
legal proceedings, would force the government to re-think how it treats
those who today get the run-around.
Such a process would question more than the manner in which a specific
problem is addressed or a given bureaucratic mechanism. It would
question the very validity of these oppressive mechanisms that deprive
individuals of their freedom. State and government institutions would
have no choice but to listen and abide by the people's will, offer
solutions to their daily problems, rather than create new ones.
Of course, such mechanisms are far removed from the interests of the
authoritarian strata, intent on maintaining and improving their
privileged situation. Such a threat to their position would simply be
inadmissible. Imagine citizens unsatisfied by the State services they're
getting? This could be a threat to the powers that be, but not anywhere
near as big of a threat as empowering citizens, which they clearly don't
Let citizens exhaust themselves in their quibbles with corrupt
shopkeepers and inspectors, the State seems to say. It's a way of
killing two birds with one stone, for those bribable shopkeepers and
inspectors also perturb the peace and undermine the profits of the ones
at the top. Protect yourself, citizens, the State appears to be saying,
but only against those that are also my problem, not against me, mind you.
Thankfully, this cannot go on forever.
Source: "The Cuban State Keeps Complaints at the Bottom" -