Free of charge and other fantasies

I go in search of eye drops for my right eye which I irritated a couple of days ago.  The two hour wait at the family doctor gives me time to hear all the gossip of the neighborhood from the mouths of my neighbors who are going to “stop by” the doctor’s office.  The doctor, complaining that her workload is too heavy because some of her colleagues are on a mission to Venezuela, writes me a referral while eating a six-peso pizza.

In the polyclinic the scene is similar, but my worry about my eye makes me behave myself and I wait until they can see me.  One man with antediluvian glasses warns me that he has been waiting in line since six in the morning, so I calculate that I will be able to finish reading the novel I brought, while I wait.  An old woman tells me, sarcastically, without my having opened my mouth, “This is because it’s free.  If people had to pay for it, a different rooster would crow.”*

I am not surprised by the expression she uses because phrases like this are popping up more frequently everywhere, but I am thinking about the peculiar idea of “free” she expresses.  When she tells me this, I imagine that Aladdin’s lamp, rubbed by eleven million Cubans, has succeeded in providing these hospitals, schools and other publicized “subsidies.”  But the image of the genie with his three wishes doesn’t last long, and I start thinking about the high price we pay every day.

The money does not come, as she believes, from the kindhearted pocket of those who govern us, but from the high taxes they charge us for everything we buy in the convertible peso stores, the excessive payments that compel us to take steps to emigrate, the humiliating burden that the foreign currency puts on this island, and the undervalued wages in which all workers are mired.  We are the ones who pay for these services about which, ironically, we cannot complain.

Moreover, we also pay for the gigantic military infrastructure which, because of their warrior delusions, consumes a large share of the national budget.  From our leaking pockets come the political campaigns, the solidarity marches, and the excesses of leadership our government treats itself to around the world.  We are the ones who finance our own gags, the microphones that listen to us, the informers who stalk us, and the quiet parsimony of our parliamentarians.

Nothing is free.  Every day we pay a high price for all these things.  Not only in money, time and energy, but also in freedom.  We ourselves are the ones who defray the cost of the cage, the birdseed, and the scissors with which they clip our wings.

Translator’s note:
A different rooster would crow or, in Spanish, “otro gallo cantaría” = Things would turn out differently.

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