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Amaury Pérez and Envy at Customs

Humiliation is common at Cuban Customs. The singular thing about this case is that not even a well-known public figure was exempt from it.


Amaury Pérez Vidal, songwriter, singer and the host of a television show, returned to Havana, where he lives, after a trip to the United States. A dream trip, according to a text posted on his wife's Facebook profile. And, in the same text, he reported having been humiliated "by the staff at the Havana Airport's Customs Office, in a way that is in indescribable."

On other occasions he had been treated in the same way, he said, but had preferred to remain silent. "Until now," he wrote, with many exclamation marks.

Humiliation is common at Cuban Customs. Many travellers have suffered it first-hand. The singular thing about this case is that not even a well-known public figure was exempt from it. Not even Amaury Pérez Vidal, who has proclaimed himself a son of Fidel Castro, is immune from Customs' abuse.

The most curious thing, however, were certain reactions to the text in which Pérez Vidal complained. Violeta Rodríguez, a soap opera actress and daughter of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, explains what happened, putting it down to envy. She says of the Customs officers: "Let's remember that these are people who have traveled, at most, from the province to the capital."

According to her, the envy that these officials feel when dealing with those who are able to travel leads them to try to humiliate them. "Oh, and if you're an artist, and you're on TV, even worse!" se says.  

Another actor, creator of the popular television personality Pánfilo, Luis Silva, is of the same opinion: "I’d like to get off the plane, and go straight to the street, so that I don’t have to witness their sour faces, their aversion to their work, their indolence and bad manners. But, it's understandable. Because none of those people travel. It bothers them that you come with little things that you have bought. With suitcases full of everything that is needed in Cuba (that is, everything)."

Amaury Pérez Vidal, Violeta Rodríguez and Luis Silva acknowledge having been victims of Customs staff. The situation, as explained by the last two, will not change until the crucial difference between those who travel abroad and those who travel only to other provinces, if at all, is resolved. Those who return from abroad will always be vulnerable to the moods of whomever attends to them at the airport. And, depending on the resentment of whomever receives them, there will be humiliation.

Seen in this way, things cannot change overnight. Although Violeta Rodríguez and Luis Silva, as victims, would do well to make the effort to understand just who it is that humiliates and will humiliate them. Because a victim who does not fully identify his victimizer will have a harder time escaping, leaving, or solving the problem.

If it is explained by mere envy, as the two do, then the problem should not be limited to Customs officers. It would be better to understand it as a system: the envy in the Revolutionary Offensive, the envy in those who once shouted "Escoria!" (scum), the envy in every act of repudiation, envy as an essential feature of CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) volunteers, watching to see if one's neighbor is living "beyond their means"; envy as the engine behind snitching, and, to summarize it in a popular fixture, the envy conveyed by the propaganda poster in Havana that read: "Imperialists, we have absolutely no fear of you!", to which people added, muttering, a subversive add-on: "... but tremendous envy."

More than just a few officials, what ends up humiliating people at Customs on the island is a whole system designed to humiliate Cubans. Perhaps Violeta Rodríguez and Luis Silva have never stopped to think about it, but it seems likely that Amaury Pérez Vidal knows this very well. Otherwise, he would have appealed to some official authority after his previous humiliations, and would not have kept quiet for so long. And he would not have withdrawn from his wife's Facebook profile his condemnation of this last humiliation, after he had finally decided to speak out.

The system of humiliation must continue operating, there is no stopping it, and Amaury Pérez Vidal is spurred to bite his tongue, again.

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