The impossible closure: ethics and coronavirus in Cuba

By: Teresa Díaz Canals

Cuba-Covid 19

And people would stay home

And I read books and listened

And he rested and exercised

And he made art and played

And he learned new ways to be

And it stopped

And he listened more deeply

Someone meditated

Someone prayed

Someone was dancing,

Someone came across his shadow

And people started thinking differently

And people healed.

And there was no people

who lived in a dangerous ignorance

Meaningless, heartless,

Even the earth began to heal

And when the danger ended

And people met

They cried for the dead

And they made new decisions…

And they dreamed of new visions

And they created new ways of life.

And they completely healed the earth.

Just when they were healed.

Grace Ramsay

“The Story of Iza”

“Probably of all our feelings the only one that is not truly ours is hope. Hope belongs to life,

it’s life itself defending itself.”

Julio Cortázar



“Ethics is the answer I give here and now to the suffering of the other,” Writes Joan-Carles Mulich in her book The Ethics of Compassion. The post-pandemic stage, of radical exceptionality, would involve essential changes in the life of the nation in the Cuban case.

Expired rules, slogans, demagoguery, trivial spectacle, empty discourse, will not work in a society governed by well-being. The key to success in the coming times is called integrity, perseverance, respect for oneself and others in order to build a new model of national conciliation. Cuba must be a homeland for all and not someone’s fiefdom.

Usually, every writing is done at home, but not in peculiar circumstances like these that the world lives, in confinement induced by the appearance of the dreadsome virus that has already collected millions of infected and thousands of deaths in this year 2020.

Experiences… own, heard, read and viewed

On May 14, 2020, it was officially declared by Dr. Francisco Durán García, Director of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP), that this disease would be endemic in our country. It was worrying news, particularly for those of us who are “a certain age” and are at high risk due to certain under-based diseases (hypertension, asthma, diabetes, etc.). But on 5 June, the renowned specialist indicated that there should be no talk of endemicity because work was being done to ensure that this did not come to fruit line.

With this unforeseen turn of life worldwide in times of pandemic, we have seen impressive gestures of solidarity, overflow of communications, unease for the lives of others, nobility of young people who, being supposedly the least affected, take concrete tasks of relief and actions to keep active the automation that life itself demands.

We welcome the surprise that, as a result of the intense work of researchers, Cuba has developed medicines that have saved the lives of severe and even critical patients.

Another surprising aspect in these extraordinary days is the emergence of certain selfishness, misunderstandings, disrespectfulness in cyberspace. I heard of some un honored hero in his decess as a result of the uninuneum ever since. We know of the contempt and violence with which people who do not agree with the social project are still treated. I learned of the execution of “exemplary” trials – when the diversion of resources has been allowed for decades – to those who have engaged in illicit sales. This was joined by the television display of these alleged transgressors of the law, but deserving – like any human being – of fair, balanced treatment, among other things, because those who were presented in the media have families, and unloading on them “the full weight of the law” constitutes a violation of their civil rights.

People wait and, above all, enjoy the cases presented, interviews with neighbors who denounce the next incarcerated… a kind of Roman circus. One thing is social order and another is the stimulus exacerbated by the spirit of policing and delation.

I was surprised to hear in the television program Hacemos Cuba the question of whether there are legal provisions so that the elderly and pregnant women do not take to the streets. That is, behind the question was the intention that they existed, even if those people did not have help to meet their needs for the purchase of food and toiletries.

On my meager street outings, I have observed some policemen reminding the elderly in authoritarian tone that they cannot be on the street; I’ve been told. However, I have felt it not as an ethic of compassion, but as a measure that jeopardizes the country’s statistics, as a proud and proud disposition from power.

One thing that caught my eye on the aforementioned program was another question about whether it was legal to take pictures of the police authorities. “Yes, ” replied the lawyer, “but do not spread them on the nets.” If that were done in America, the world would never have heard of the assassination of African-American George Floyd. I believe that an authority or police officer in any country may make mistakes, do wrong things, even offend any citizen.

Civics in Cuba

The following words of the Cuban apostle José Martí (1853-1895) clearly announce the significance of civics in the Cuban case:

“The independence of a people consists of the respect that the public authorities demonstrate to each of their children […] So outraged have we Cubans lived that in me it is madness the desire, and rock of determination, to see guided the things of my land so that the person of every Cuban is respected as the sacred person…”.

The aspiration for the proper functioning of society is not linked to repression. The solution to corruption would be to address the suggestions, among others, of economic development that some of our economists explain very well with regard to the free performance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and other smart initiatives that would improve our battered national life.

And why don’t you report on the murders of women that have taken place in these months? The animal abuse that systematically happens anywhere in the Cuban geography? Of the racial contradictions that remain and manifest on Cuban soil? Only through the nets did we know that, in April of this year, in the pandemic, a woman and her two daughters aged two and five were killed by a man who was her partner. The event occurred in the rural community El Indio, in the eastern part of the country. What prevents you from reporting or alerting about these crimes without a sensationalist sense? However, the law, which is the basis for eliminating these dismantles, was rejected, because what matters now – according to some experts – is to work “indefinitely” in communities. This proposal is excellent, but does not exempt from the need for legislation against gender-based violence at the national level.

“Cuba must be a homeland for all and not someone’s fiefdom”

As the people suffer from food desupply and imprison law enforcement offenders, it is urgent that the social sciences deal with the analysis of corrupt plots not visible at any level we already feel. An order that is made before us and in us requires participation. I see the truth of that idea by American literary critic Harold Bloom (1930-2019) that “reality is a very erquivocal term. The word reality means so many things to every human being!” In this lockdown I check that dealing with the Other is simply dealing with the environment.

It has proved an impressive and somewhat contradictory spectacle to witness, on the one hand, the successful “stay at home” campaign and, on the other hand, the queues or long queues as we named them, to access anything, reflecting the strong structural economic crisis that we suffered a long time ago. In such circumstances, we find a significant part of the population with a “low perception of risk,” which I would call better, a great sense of irresponsibility.

When I talked about these facts with a sociologist, she told me something worth noting: in certain neighborhoods “going out on the street” to talk is an essential part of the lives of people who live extremely overcrowded. It is not the same as “stay at home” for human beings who live very comfortable, than for those who live in a narrow room, in un pleasant conditions to see time pass.

And within that so-called “low perception of risk” is – as in my neighborhood – to keep certain houses active intended for the “ball” note, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We all know that there is a significant participation of the population in the lottery issue, although gambling is not allowed, as cockfights and dog fights are apparently not allowed.

I wonder why they don’t rationally control that persistent game of chance (the ball) and the money raised to food production. A portion of the Cuban population does not work for the state. We know that work, in many cases, lost the ability to absorb a lot of available energy, we also know that in many trades wages are unreactive. People “live up to date” and when that happens gambling becomes more important. So it is that they become customary, in order and in second nature.

I had a very strong impression when I decided to make one of the aforementioned queues in the Vedado area. A policeman was in charge of organizing the people piled up to access one of the shops of the Water and Soap chain. The organizer, with a blue down, wrote on our bodies the numbers they touched us. It was amazing to feel like a little animal, a res.

To get an idea of the predominant level of scarcity in the country, suffice it to say that recently a group of people set out to collect liquid detergent accidentally spilled by a truck on a street in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, Havana. Describing some of these facts makes us uncomfortable witnesses.

Número estampado por un policía sobre el brazo de la autora, para fijar así el orden en una cola.
Number stamped by a policeman on the author’s arm, to fix the order on a tail.


There’s some encouraging news. The curve supposedly decreases and the virus appears to be cornering it. For those who have lost loved ones, this episode will remain in memory, although the rest of the city’s inhabitants celebrate the resumption of infinite normalcy.

When it’s all over, for a large part of the population it will mean restoring the daily routine, going back to your job centers and schools. For others, look for life alternatives that complement your lean salaries or pensions. Other evidence more than where human exists, ambivalence arises, selection, remembrance, forgetfulness, reinterpretation, relocation.

I experienced in my own flesh the receipt of an email, which was profound to my thirty-nine years of work in a single institution:

“Dear: […] I inform you that taking into account the current situation and the new measures taken by the country … in May they can charge for the contract, not so on. When everything returns to normal we will see the strategy to follow […] One hug and take good care of yourself.”

That “hug” and that “take good care” seemed to me to be total hypocrisy. I immediately understood the need to rethink our situation in the world, that we are not fully present, we are also absent, we are what can happen to us, what happens unintentionally.

I fully considered that it was not necessary, that non-existence is as possible as existence, that surprise is a condition of experience. In an instant I wondered the same thing as Kafka’s character in The Metamorphosis (1915): “What happened to me?” That day, another institution for which I also work as a teacher, but only relatively recently – the Catholic Church – sent me my salary.

I then remembered an anecdote from George Steiner, who joined a gestural therapy group where he was asked to drop backwards, without being afraid, because someone would hold him when he made that move. Steiner couldn’t, that would mean trusting, being at peace. “Reading is being willing to welcome a guest at home when night falls,” said this theorist of literature and culture. In the meantime, I read.

The important thing is not who is my neighbor, but whose neighbor am I? To be ethical subject you have to start from each other’s pain and respond compassionately to this pain. Compassion does not mean a vision of the world from strength, but when the fragile and the vulnerable are truly understood and accompanied. Ω

This article was originally published on the IPS website

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