Cuban Confinement: ‘Online’ Queues and American Movies

HAVANA, May 7th  Havana has been left without a boardwalk, without noise, without dominoes in the streets. The coronavirus epidemic has emptied the capital’s promenade, where people used to go fishing, chatting or simply fooling around looking at the sea every day and thereby exorcising everyday problems. For the eight kilometres of this great urban divan, old American convertibles no longer pass by carrying tourists, nor do they see drunkards and bohemians drinking rum, or lovers squeezing at dusk.

The noise and music, previously omnipresent in any corner of the city, have given way to silence. And this is a strange feeling. The improvised games of dominoes in the shade of a tree have disappeared from the pavements, the screams of the pioneers in the parks, the compliments, the drinking of beer on terraces of palates and state Timbiriche, today closed.

Due to the heat and idiosyncrasy, Cubans have always lived facing the street. The touching, the contact, the hugs and the kisses on this island are ways of relating as much or more than words. But it turns out not any more. “Because of this filthy virus” —as a neighbour of the popular Jesús María neighbourhood defined it — “social distancing” is imposed and the handling is parked, something that in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean is fatal.

Since the first patient was detected on the island, 55 days ago, 69 people have died, 57,700 diagnostic tests have been performed and 1,685 cases confirmed. The figures are not high at the moment and, although a mandatory national quarantine has not been decreed, the measures to achieve social isolation are increasingly severe and all public transport has even been suspended.

Self-confinement is recommended — by the good, and also brave, not at all simple in a country where Internet access is limited and draconian shortages, with its aftermath of long queues in shops.

Cuban confinement has its things. People are asked to stay at home, but most do not have Wi-Fi at home or a flat rate for mobile data, and so there is no Netflix or worthwhile platform to be brutalized and hang out. Luckily, thanks to the proverbial Cuban inventiveness, for a dollar you can access the “package”, a pirate selection of a terabyte of audiovisual content that weekly brings you your own on a hard drive.

The “package” is an institution and includes a wide selection of movies, series and entertainment materials, mostly made in the USA. Thanks to this private service – legal but tolerated – that was invented years ago by savvy people, millions of Cubans can see the latest world premieres in their homes.

In Cuba, there is no capitalist-type cable television either, although in many neighbourhoods of Havana not a few families are connected to a pirate system of clandestine antennas in which some – lousy – content from Miami is seen.

Paradoxically, the state television channels are not a bad option thanks to the North American blockade, since as there are no broadcast rights to pay, many films are broadcast, including the last Oscar winners – in the last few weeks Parasites, 1917 and Jojo Rabbit passed by. – but also a lot of action trash.

Although the official newspaper Granma has criticized more than one occasion “the little revolutionary values” that these telefilms distil, as they are free, come in.

With the schools closed, the “teleclass” have been imposed. Two educational television channels have been operating on the island for a long time, and these days they program, by degrees, the various subjects of the courses, including higher education subjects. These channels coexist with the rest, so that, at certain times, if you zap the same you can find a rule of three, a chemical formula, or cartoons and a romantic comedy, which sometimes causes conflicts of interest for a difficult solution.

Hanging out at home “is not easy,” as Cubans say. Given the Internet problem and the precarious state of many homes —according to a study, more than 50% of the homes in Havana are in a fair or bad condition—, to which is added the heat wave these days, when thermometers have reached 34 and 35 degrees, staying quartered is a heroic option.

But what most threatens the self-confinement that is being exhorted is, without a doubt, the scarcity, which forces us to go out into the streets every day to look for food and basic necessities.

The shortage causes large queues, queues for hours, queues that are sometimes double, or triple, the tail of chicken, that of detergent, that of flour or that of butter. They are queues with a life of their own, some that start at dawn, with “rotations”, rotators —and hoarders loitering—, others with vigilant shifts and police so that there are no fights and people keep their distance.

There are them in the sun and in the shade, and also kilometre queues that some have baptized with a very eloquent category, “panic-terror queues”, in addition to the fact that, in most cases, when you find what you need, it is sold in a mode rationed, so you can not even accumulate to dig in at home.

The authorities recognize that these agglomerations are one of their biggest problems in the fight against the spread of COVID-19, and they try to decentralize the points of sale and distribute what little they have through the state warehouses through which they are distributed. the products of the ration card. The Government assures that the North American embargo makes the situation even more critical and calls for the lifting of sanctions.

Faced with the difficulty of queuing the queues, a few weeks ago an online sales system in some stores tried to organize itself on the island and the state corporation CIMEX enabled a home delivery system called tuenvio.cu.
The result was fatal. When you went to the pages, they did not open, when they opened, the offers were very limited or it was almost impossible to complete the order when you completed it, the Internet crashed. Saved all these problems, what of tuenvio.cu.
It was an even worse mess, to the extent that the president himself, Miguel Díaz-Canel, criticized in a serious tone on television that many “people have spent several days with requests and requests and the platform has still not been able to respond to them,” admitting that this “has created disgust” and “has taken away credibility” from the initiative.

One user remarked: “Cuba has always been a paradise for queues, but now we really ate it: we have invented the queue online.” On top of that, today you can’t even go to the boardwalk to chat for a while and forget your sorrows.

( www.explica.co )