Lunes, 26 de Junio de 2017
20:27 CEST.
Society

Do we Cubans still need permission to enter state establishments?

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I recently went to buy cigarrettes at the Ruinas del Parque bar-restaurant, located on the corner of Obispo and Aguacate, in Old Havana. I said "good afternoon" to the doorman, and headed towards the bar, but I was intercepted. Without the least demonstration of courtesy, the doorman asked me where I was going.

Flustered by both his question and rude tone, I asked him whether I needed permission to frequent an establishment open to all.

"The Cubans grew ignorant, and now they want to trample everything," was his reply. Sporting a guayabera and with a martial bearing, he failed to explain what my ignorance consisted of, or what exactly I was trampling.

Ruinas del Parque, a bar-restaurant with open-air tables, is part of a whole series of state-owned businesses located within Havana’s historic center. Decades back they served foreign tourists almost exclusively, the high prices of their products and services making them inaccessible to everyone else.

As I shared my anecdote with workers at several private bars and restaurants, also located within the historic quarter, I recalled an often-overlooked reflection: the rise of Socialist Cuba entailed a tradition of vague and ambiguous laws and regulations.

When they are not applied due to ineffectiveness or political disagreement - in the best cases - they are subject to individual interpretation, and serve the interests of the higher-ups of the Communist Party (PCC), who run corporations and ministries as if they were principalities.

"Let's not forget that, even though the ban restricting access to hotels and tourist services was repealed years ago, we are still not seen in these places as customers, but rather as a nuisance, or as potential hustlers," said chef Rogelito Linares.

According to Dalia Ferrer, an expert soda maker, the reasons for the doorman's attitude range from incompetence to prejudice and racism.

"In any case, the question was offensive, as well as counterproductive in this type of profession. The elegant way is simple: establish a cordial dialogue by returning the greeting, and informing the potential customer about the products that can be enjoyed at the business," she said.

Gauging how deeply our social fabric has been damaged by the wedge driven by the Government between Cubans and foreigners (even going so far as to incarcerate Cubans who tried to breach it) is no simple exercise. The doorman’s question and tone serve as a reminder: the abolition of a law that discriminated against us is all for naught if we do not stand up for ourselves and speak out.

"What is sad is that we have become accustomed to this relationship as if it were something natural, an idiosyncrasy of ours," explained bartender Abelito Santana as he prepares a sangría for two Cuban customers.

"We know in advance that in certain places we are going to be mistreated, or discriminated against, and we somehow participate in this vicious circle, like docile children of abuse...that doorman is also a victim."

Government perceptions of tourism, which can be found at the pro-Government site Ecured, evidence this obfuscation by restricting and manipulating the population's destinations: “Occasionally it has been pointed out that tourism could have positive benefits by allowing different cultures to interrelate. However, the socio-cultural impacts detected tend to be negative for the host society, which is why Cuba pays special attention to the development of this sector and its influence in Cuban society.”

Along with the rise of tourism as a leading source of foreign currency in the country, it was also destined to consolidate (as many Cuban sociologists and essayists indicated) class discrimination, exacerbated by the emergence of a private sector in which the military and oligarchy owns or controls the most prosperous and lucrative businesses.

Trying to restrict my access to Ruinas del Parque was, perhaps, a personal (though not isolated) decision by the doorman. But, without any doubt, it reflects, along with racism, a set of attitudes, prohibited by the Constitution, whose existence and profusion are still denied by the Government.

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