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
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.