Since I moved – fifteen years ago – to this huge socialist-style apartment block, I have not received a single letter by regular service. The reason is not that my friends have forgotten me, or that email has dethroned the traditional ways of sending a missive, but rather that Cubans do not trust the mail.
So many proceedings, applications and payments that could be handled through the traditional mail are still at the stage where we must present ourselves at the office and wait in line to be served. It seems a futuristic illusion that the day will come when we will receive the light bill, the water bill or the gas bill in the mail, nor could even Asimov himself make us believe that a package could arrive into our hands without previously having been opened.
In the midst of these suspicions about the emptiness of my mailbox, Granma published an article on Wednesday, May 28, on the theme of the “inviolability of correspondence” enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic. The journalist who writes the text assures us that: “The National Defense Act stipulates that except in exceptional situations – war or state of war, general mobilization or state of emergency – certain rights and constitutional guarantees, including the inviolability of correspondence, may be regulated in a different way.”
For years in Cuba the idea has fomented that no one could keep secrets from the State and personal correspondence has been one of the most vulnerable expressions of privacy. I have a thousand and one examples of open letters, read and used against their recipient, without this action being justified by the gravity of war. A friend who corresponded with a colleague in exile in the United States was reprimanded by her bosses when an indiscreet neighbor intercepted one of her letters and sent it immediately to the “security” of her workplace.
The return of privacy, this exclusive zone where a government cannot penetrate because it belongs to the citizen, will take years. Not only do we need letters to arrive on time and undamaged, but we must have confirmation that, to she who writes it, her letter is the exclusive preserve of the sender and her recipient. Someday correspondence will be like words whispered directly into the ear and post offices will ensure that those whispers cannot be “heard” by others.
Photo caption: One of the most secure mailboxes in the city… in the Hotel Nacional