Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The “Forbidden” and the “Mandatory”

The "Forbidden" and the "Mandatory" / Miriam Celaya
Posted on November 26, 2013

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those "on the
inside" (I share the experience of living every day under this Island's
sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase,
coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on
repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality
itself. "In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory".

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba
it's prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in
laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all
aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal
activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if
not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long
hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people
may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is,
the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been
subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the
questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live
thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established
by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions
abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the "mandatory" is another matter. It is rather about a total
legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons
(irrational at that) it's a legend that serves many Cubans to
unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the
civic mess that is choking us. The list of "obligations" would be
endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows:
belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban
Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers
Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student
Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending
different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a
"mandatory" nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate,
attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the
National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary
calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these
"obligations" would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one's
job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being
eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children
of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience
that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it
constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that
weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers
of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from
here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed
against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming
the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much
energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make
the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept
us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to
be slaves forever. It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013

Source: "The "Forbidden" and the "Mandatory" / Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba" -

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