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In Cuba, Power Flows to the Families of the Powerful

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Grannies on Safari
Grannies on Safari

Crowded hallways, blinds that let the heat in but barely allow a breeze to pass through. It's ten in the morning in any office, in any place that serves the public, with a waiting list, the length and breadth of this Island. A functionary calls the names and surnames of those who wait, reviews their papers, takes them into a little cubicle with cardboard walls.

Around noon, an impeccably dressed and shod lady crosses the room and the director himself prioritizes her above all others, and even sees her in his office. When she leaves, someone whispers about her, "That's the daughter of General So-and-So... so she doesn't have to wait."

In the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood ugly concrete buildings alternate with mansions set among spacious gardens behind high fences. "And whose is that?" asks the curious child walking down the street for the first time. The parents snicker, raise their eyebrows, and finally tell him, "It was given to the mother of one of the commanders who came down from the Sierra Maestra, but now her grandchildren live there."

And just as they pass the other corner, an old man is talking with his next door neighbor. As the inquisitive little boy nears he hears him say, "I'm going to see if my nephew, the police chief, will give him a scare, so he'll turn the loud music down." When the curious family is crossing Tulipan Street a car fails to give way at the corner. At the wheel, another big-headed "blue blood" who knows he will never be fined for ignoring the stop sign.

Ancestry, the family tree, sharing genes with another is, in the Cuba of today, an important safe-conduct for almost everything. Nepotism is manifested not only the work structure, or in the rising to certain political positions. To be "family of..." streamlines procedures, erases criminal histories, positions you higher on the ladder to purchase a house or a car, gets you into the best hospitals without waiting, guarantees enrollment in the most exclusive schools, and even ensures the rapid cremation of someone you're alleged to have killed.

Your parentage could be the trump card, or the losing one, the element for which many colleges will condone in one student what would never be tolerated in another. Because who would want to embarrass the powerful dad? Why make things complicated for yourself by saying "no" to the whims of the general's sister? Who would dare to delay a service to the grandson of a senior leader? Everyone knows that anger, when it comes from Mt. Olympus in the form of a lightening bold, of thunder, can get people fired from their jobs, get them in trouble, and ruin promising careers.

Translating Cuba is a compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban bloggers in English.