When you have a license to rent to foreigners in Cuba your life changes dramatically. You manage to be independent economically, after dreaming of it for years: now you don’t have to count the kilowatts to pay the light bill, you don’t have to worry about not being able to pay for the phone, you can fix your house, buy household appliances, have an air conditioner and rent DVDs to watch movies. Then you are “independent” of the State, you have “your” business… What is the price?
The inspectors come almost every day to check that your papers are in order, that no foreigner has stayed for less than 24 hours, that you don’t have more than two people per room, that all the data about all the people who have come to see your tourists is noted in your book. Added to that are the immigration agents—MININT (Ministry of the Interior)—to whom you must give, religiously, the names and identity card numbers as well as the detail with regards to frequency and time of visits, of any Cuban who’s had contact with the visitor in your house. Then you ask me: How far do we have to go? Do we have to write it down? Is there any way to break the rule? You can only rent two rooms per house, almost all the proprietors rent 3 and even 4 rooms, which seems fine to me. Is there’s no human way they can stop snitching on every Cuban who has interactions with a foreigner? What’s the difference?
I remember about two years ago I was at the house of a friend who rented, she had left and I was there with her mother. She’d rented to a foreigner for a couple of hours one night. The man came at 11 at night with a hooker (always in Havana when you have a license anyone can come), and in two hours he left the room. The guy walked to the balcony where the mother of my friend was making a note of the name of the poor prostitute. We heard the door and it took us about three seconds to realize what had happened: he’d left without paying anyone.
The owner of the house had to run after the man, but of course didn’t catch him; the poor girl almost collapsed in tears on the table mumbling something to me I couldn’t catch: I was crying. I looked over the balcony and could see her heels disappearing around the corner, I saw the patrol stop her and pick her up.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.