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Really? Cubans Never Joke About the Revolution?

Yoani Sanchez – Award-winning Cuban blogger

Really? Cubans Never Joke About the Revolution?

Posted: 09/30/2012 10:01 pm

The year: 2050. The regime: still in power. The Coppelia ice cream

stand, the most famous in Cuba, is in ruins, and tree roots have played

havoc with the granite floor. Amid the rusty iron columns a couple of

guys are trying to light a fire. They are rubbing two sticks together in

the most primitive way. Moving their hands compulsively, desperately.

Suddenly one looks up and predicts, "This is about to come crashing

down. I imagine in the coming months they're going to cut the stick

ration in half… then how will we light a fire?"

This joke, which has been around for a couple of decades already, is

re-circulating lately after certain statements by the former Minister of

Culture, Abel Prieto. During a gathering at the Dulce María Loynaz

center in Havana, he asserted that "Cubans don't have a single joke that

refers to the Revolution, nor to denunciations, prisoners of conscience,

and ousted officials . He immediately added that the national jokes

rather "talk about scarcities or emigration" but "in a benevolent way,

forgiving, without rancor or bitterness."

Such ingenuous pronouncements provoked laughter, even among those

present, despite the official character of the site. The words of the

current "Advisor to the President of the Council of State and Ministers"

(i.e. Raul Castro) spread quickly, generating derision inside and

outside the country. In Cuba-themed forums and sites internauts posted

an avalanche of old and new jokes that refer to the prevailing system on

the Island. Spontaneous anthologies of everything that has made us

laugh; inventories of jokes that have caused us to snicker, even in the

darkest moments. No one wants to suggest they can't remember at least

one joke about the system, the leaders in power, or the ideology of the

Communist Party.

There is everything. From the usual stories where "Fidel Castro arrives

in hell and finds other presidents there…" to the typical jokes

starring Pepito, that mischievous boy who appears in many humorous

stories. Nicknames, anecdotes, puns and wisecracks that made history

have all been dusted off. A festival of derision detonated by the

categorical statement of the former minister. As if Cubans had been

expecting something completely ridiculous to make them laugh. And

they've split their sides over it. Because there seems to be a direct

relationship between the seriousness of the problems and the ingenuity

of our humor, so in times of crisis hilarity wins. The nineties were

marked by scarcities and abundant jokes; prodigious in both problems and


Politics has been one of the main themes of popular jokes, along with

sex and death. So it's more than little naive to think that a political

process that has lasted 53 years wouldn't be the subject of scorn and

sarcasm. What's more, few governments have sparked as many jokes as the

one led by Fidel Castro, and now his brother Raul Castro. It's just that

they never found a place in the official media, nor on humorous State TV

shows, or in the official newspaper supplements of cartoons and jokes.

So they circulated orally, unwritten.

It was in the years of the Special Period when Pepito started talking

insistently about food. Every week there would be a new story where our

crafty eternal child referred to food shortages or the culinary

inventions appearing on our plates. He threw sharp darts of humor

against government mismanagement and against its stubbornness in not

allowing farmers markets or the possession of hard currency.

His jokes narrated the dark present and predicted a worst future. Like

the one where the irreverent boy is sitting at the table and before

trying the first bite he asks his mom, "Is it true that you once fried

the floor rags and ate them like they were steak?" The stern lady just

sniffed in annoyance. But the boy returned to the charge. "Mommy, is it

true that they sold some monster meat on the food ration and called it

"skinless dogs?" A long silence, and then in response the mother shouts

angrily, "Shut up Pepito and eat your lizard!"

Stories like this have come to our ears this week, after Abel Prieto

opened the Pandora's Box of jokes. Just to prove the contrary, people

have called on their memories and exercised their facial muscles.

But the funniest thing of all is that this man who is now an advisor to

the president stars in one of the most famous Cuban jokes of the last

two decades, one built on the fact that his last name is a slang word

for "black." It is a play on words that criticizes racism in the police

along with the constant persecution of the black market. To the question

of, "Who has been the minister most talked about in Cuba"… the answer

is simply "Prieto"… thanks to what the cops say in the street:

Prieto… whaddya have in that sack? And then comes the prolonged

laughter, the cruel mockery.

With popular jokes, it's better not to get involved, or to try to

restrict them. Because they can fight back with a barrage of ridicule, a

flood of humor.

Translating Cuba is a compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban

bloggers in English.


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