The Virus and the Law
By Mileyda Menéndez Dávila
March 24, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
“Yeah, I know what they’re gonna tell me, if I’m on the street for fun they’re gonna give me a ticket. So what? So I have another reason to get out of the house: to pay them. I’m not going to be locked up! If what you get, you get one day…
The (not so few) people traveling on the A95 this Monday would think that my (involuntary) chat partner would be joking, but I chose to think that her bravado, bordering on indolence, was her way of dealing with something that makes her nervous and she doesn’t dare to admit it.
“Let’s see, why aren’t you locked up,” she tried to challenge me by staring at her. “I’m going to work,” I explained, and she took advantage of the situation to justify herself: “And I’m going to fight! They brought out detergent in the Vedado and I already have a point that buys at a premium everything I get. For me, that’s ham, because I form my own in a line and I see the load.
I sighed long and deep. Explaining to the lady the legal and moral implications of her conduct would be like plowing in the sea. But people were paying attention to her gestures and I decided to take advantage of the improvised mobile platform for a preventive civic talk, including the teenager who was clearly accompanying her on the “walk”.
“It’s not just fines: You can be imprisoned for three months to a year… to begin with,” I let out in an intriguing voice, assuming that her “bogeyman” would be to lose his freedom. She raised an eyebrow, and still with a cheek, asked, “Why is that?”
“Because that is the penalty for those who commit crimes against public health, such as spreading epidemics or refusing to collaborate with the health authorities in campaigns to prevent them,” I said, summarizing Article 187 of the Cuban Penal Code. Then, without pause, I reinforced the blow: “If you also boast, as you do now, it can be assumed that you are acting maliciously and the penalty is five to eight years. Ah! and as an author, not an accomplice, so there is no reduction”.
She took a breath, as if to reply in a not very good way, and I took advantage of her gesture to add: “They also give three months to a year to anyone who incites others not to take action against an epidemic, so go on adding up… And if “doing your thing” is to create panic to tangle up the tail, that crime costs you one year to three more. And, of course, contempt for the authorities–and those who report actions at the Mesa Redonda are contempt for the authorities–is also a crime, and failure to take care of your dependents is also a crime under the law.
In front of us, a young man followed my monologue of legalese, splashed by the speaker with that sound that in Cuba we call “frying eggs”. His face showed disbelief, but he did not dare to support or deny the alleged anarchist.
Another gentleman, standing near the door, commented that, even putting it all together, the penalty was little for the gravity of the moment, So that gave me grounds to say that if injuries or deaths are proved to have been caused by an irresponsible attitude, the penalty is multiplied in years, not counting the punishment for hoarding products in an illicit economic activity.
“You want to put more fear into it than the coronavirus,” he cut off my explanation, no longer smiling. “And with me, that doesn’t walk. Besides, putting people in jail doesn’t solve the problem,” he insisted on defending himself, but the young man finally took a stand for common sense: “What not? If you stop exposing others with that, it will surely work, and in the long run, people will understand that this is serious, so let’s get back, pure, get back!