Quarantine, bread and circuses

Like almost everything else that arrives unexpectedly –whether good or bad–, the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantine have brought new things to Cuba. Aside from the masks –those asphyxiating little items which make us look like train robbers from the Wild West–, it brought us Dr. Durán every morning, who is now beloved almost like a relative, but was previously know by few; it showed us, though always covered, some of the faces of the highly-qualified biotechnology personnel; and it also showed us that shop lines, like the universe, are in constant expansion, for although we already believed they were long and everlasting, chicken meat has helped redefine our views on the matter.

But the coronavirus brought along other things, some of them bearing a highly interesting veil of mystery, which have supplanted Tras la huella (the most popular police procedural Cuban TV show) in the preference of lovers of detective stories: every night, the people wait for the deep voice of Yunior Smith –a worthy temporary successor of Rafael Serrano– to announce the inevitable police case.

Ranging from large expropriations of State resources –sweets, food products meant for vulnerable groups of people, paint, building materials–, to the illegal fishing of over a ton of lobsters, the cases are the long-awaited and necessary response to the speculation and illegal doings which for years –way too many years– have run rampant among us, like a leech that sucks away at the meager contents of the people’s pockets and the funds of the Republic, and that hangs over us like the sword of Damocles, ready to split our skull in two should any fluctuation, no matter how small, affect politics or the economy.

Nevertheless, since the beginning and until now, the cases of the new NTV segment –which nobody knows whether it’s here to stay or will saunter away with its mask over its shoulder once the quarantine ends– have gone down the uncertain path of fads. Some have been resonant and justified, so they have garnered the approval of the majority. Others, however, seem excessive and nearly ridiculous, wearing that scent that things have when they’ve been done in order to jump on the bandwagon. There’s one thing they do have in common: they elicit more questions than answers.

It seems like one of the things brought by the coronavirus to Cuba, coming from nobody knows where, is a numerous corps of policemen, district chiefs, experts and investigators, who suddenly found illegality camped under their noses and enthusiastically embarked on its eradication. Where were they until now that they hadn’t noticed? What happened before with the ‘revolutionary people’ who only now decided to report their neighbors? Did the crime-fighting sense of informers sharpen as a side effect of the quarantine?

Suddenly made diligent and effective thanks to COVID-19, these tropical Sherlocks have shaken the drowsiness they had worked with so far, and now ride into the fight, protected by their masks and the cameras of the show, against something that had been there for a long time already, and they use the news as a wall to mount the stuffed heads of those they’ve caught.

Their allies in this crusade are the journalists, whose virulence and flippancy vary depending on the province. The cameras which had been devoted to the men and women who continue working and to those who care for and look after the sick, are now also used to film these reports, most of them true monuments to investigative superficiality.

They go to the place, film the show, point their lenses at the accused –initially without protecting their privacy–, ask some questions with no real depth and predictable answers, and edit together the spectacle to be served up every night, like a sitcom on customs and manners. Generally, they seek nothing more, they show it and they leave it there; in the end this will all pass and life will just carry on, as the old Spanish song goes.

Have any of those journalists asked themselves –seriously– where the confiscated resources came from, which only the State possesses? Did they really think that those huge amounts of different and valuable things were smuggled out of government centers by simple workers, plucky thieves or persistent scalpers?

Why are the directors of affected companies, commerce managers and administrators missing from those news reports, not as simple deponents, but accepting their due blame, being properly asked for explanations, since those resources were lost on their watch? What happens that none of those investigations are conducted against government bodies or against officials who didn’t protect what was entrusted to them, and that maybe –God deliver us!– also tainted their hands with the proceeds of those illegal dealings?

Why don’t they turn their cameras on the delighted policemen or district chiefs who run the operation, so as to question them about their job so far, since in most cases the criminal behavior had been going on for years? Are any of them concerned at all with these things that some people –those who aren’t happy with just watching the wrongdoers burn at the stake while enjoying the smell of charred flesh– ask every night and talk about standing in line the next day? It seems like these journalists were also born yesterday.

Why are they satisfied with showing how the chain breaks at the weakest link? Maybe it would be advisable, to gain in seriousness and transparency, to run up the entire chain and see what lies at the other end, for the rule of the Law establishes no distinction among its subjects and must be applied to all and not just some. If we’re going to jump in the water, we must be willing to get all wet, and not just the tips of the toes.

That the investigations are still ongoing, some will say. That the corrupt and embezzling will also fall in all cases and not in only a few, others will say. That you can’t say more on the TV news, some may think. Well then, in defense of integrity, the journalists who have been given the task of tagging along in this crusade, as the truth-seeking public servants that they are, must be transparent or save the enthusiasm for later, wait until everything is clear and provide real follow-up to the cases –not just shelve them as it’s usually done in these parts–, because bias and lack of transparency bring them and their profession rejection and loss of credibility.

The names and faces of the guilty –and they unquestionably are– which have been shown in the NTV are not the only ones. The investigations should continue until they reach the deepest root and, same as they’ve show today the ascent to the scaffold of these citizens who have broken the laws of our Republic, they must also show how they are joined by those who have been their accomplices; those one can easily infer are hiding, confident of their luck as if they belonged to a superior caste, behind office desks and public posts of any sort.

These are hard times, we know. Great efforts are made to guarantee, nobly and through hard work, the bread of the people. Circuses are also necessary –the Roman poet Juvenal would say–, but not circuses of this kind, and not at the expense of integrity or put on just for the show. Let’s make everyone, with no exceptions whatsoever, abide by the Law, with ethics and truth.

Translated from the original

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