Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 12 November 2015 — Recently the octogenarian Raul Castro again spoke about his upcoming retirement in February of 2018. For someone who has never not heard the same last name leading the country during his entire life, this is unusual news, so this Cuban wants to put a humble proposal to his President, so that he can ruminate on it over time: I propose the General, when he retires, continue to be consistent with his career, and have the courage to fully incorporate himself into the society that he, along with his older brother, created — something that certainly no one has seen the tenant of “Point Zero” (i.e. Fidel Castro) do.
To accomplish this the General would have to renounce all the privileges kept during the last five-and-a-half decades of his life — earlier as Minister of the Armed Forces and then as President, but always as a life member of the Council of State and the Central Committee of the Communist Party — and incorporate himself into this flavorsome reality as one more retiree.
He would receive no financial support from his powerful son-in-law General Luis Alberto, nor from his little daughter Mariela, the Lady Di of CENESEX. So, amid his helplessness, he would be left if he dared with the consequences of the austerity always demanded by the Castro brothers for millions of Cubans but never for themselves.
Asking him to return to a certain lost village in east of the country [i.e. Biran, where he was born] would seem excessively cruel, so we would start by moving his residence from wherever he is, to some humble Havana neighborhood — for example Cerro, Marianao or Central Havana — and issue him a ration book, to which, of course, he would have every right in the world.
We would then sign him up for a succulent retirement check, let’s say 1,000 Cuban pesos a month — some $40 US — which would be five times what the average retired Cuban receives — some $8 US a month — and so, in this way, no one could accuse us of bad intentions.
At this point we would dissolve our undeserved fraternity, and from this moment would leave the man who is today the President of the Republic, at the mercy of this picturesque social environment that, for decades, has surrounded more than 90% of retired Cubans.
After several months of picking up his ration quota — six pounds of rice, a quarter pound of beans, some eggs, “chicken for fish”* and half a pound of oil a month — the ex-president’s palate would, gradually, forget the taste of beef filets, lobster, good caviar and those expensive wines that he acquired a taste for from his older brothers.
Given the high devaluation of the currency, his checkbook — due precisely to the erratic policies maintained by both dictators — would be empty after the first ten days each month and our retiree wouldn’t have a cent and would start to feel the full rigor of all the scarcities the rest of the retirees suffer just two or three days after they collect their money.
The ex-president would no longer have a cupboard filled with select supplies and would quickly become accustomed to seeing the monotonous landscape of nothing but frost in the empty freezer, and then he would confront, without resources, the merciless prices of the food markets and the brand new “TRDs” (literally: Hard Currency Collection Stores) which, thanks to the initiatives of the previous government — meaning: his — continue to exfoliate the wallets of the Cuban people.
He would no longer live amid comfortable air-conditioning, because it would consume more than half of his income, but instead he would hold onto some old repaired fan, and he would pray every day to the Virgin that it would not malfunction, and as for buying a second-hand car at one of the State agencies with prices fixed by the previous government — he would understand that it would take seventy years of his retirement income — assuming he didn’t eat, dress himself, buy shoes nor pay the electric bill. He would no longer have cars with full tanks of gas waiting at his door every day, and would be forced to travel using one of the worst systems of public transport in the world — one of the hot potatoes inherited by the following government.
Of course, after several months of poor nutrition, health problems would soon appear, but then the ex-president could no longer access the exclusive hospital known as CIMEQ, nor “La Pradera,” nor the Cira Garcia International Clinic — available almost exclusively to the upper crust and foreigners. But, with lots of luck, he would be admitted to some stinking room in a crumbling hospital, where there would be no shower nor working toilet, where he would have to bring his own sheets, and where there would be a scarcity of medicines and supplies to heal him. There he would be attended by doctors frustrated after decades of poverty-level wages and lack of personal expectations, but despite everything, these professionals would try to attend to his needs as well as the hostile environment would allow them to.
By then the retired General would have seen his desire to take a coveted tourist trip to Mexico go up in smoke for good. He would not be able to travel to that Aztec land nor any other, nor could he even reserve a room in the lowest category Cuban hotel at the risk of dying of hunger, because the previous government — that is, his — established that it would cost an entire monthly retirement check to stay just one night.
It goes without saying that by now our illustrious retiree would have been convinced that there is no sweet tamarind** nor dictatorship with any shame, but if he keeps quiet not out of common decency it will be so as not to expose himself to some of those shameful acts of repudiation that he still orders today, a risk that cannot be discarded now that his friend Furry is not long the Minister of the Interior.
However, at this moment if, out of mercy, one would give Raul Castro one piece of advice, it might be: Never sit in the warm sun at the end of the day at any peaceful Havana park along with other retirees because if the dictator showed up there — much to his disadvantage this title is usually lifelong — he would likely receive his own repudiation rally. He would know first hand, and not through cold police reports or insensitive functionaries, how much resentment and pain is harbored in these old hearts.
He would hear about the irremediable uprooting of their grandchildren, the youth now fleeing the tyranny in migratory waves across the Straits of Florida or through the Central American jungles, and he would hear, with absolute certainty, more than one story of dead rafters.
Only then, under the silence of those trees, would he perceive the tyranny in all its dimensions and how much hate is held by this betrayed generation that lost its dreams and its lives in the shadow of so much infamy.
* A common expression in Cuba which indicates ration card holders “may” substitute chicken for their allotment of fish. As fish is virtually never available to ordinary people, the “may” makes it something of a joke.
**Jeovany is remaking an expression loosely related to the English expression: “The best X is a dead X.” Among the frequent examples found on-line is: “There is no good Communist, nor any sweet tamarind.” Other examples are commonly racist, homophobic, or other forms of hate speech.