Festivities, Vandalism and Sarcasm in Santiago de Cuba

Dariela Aquique

Billboard in Santiago de Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — When I got back home, after nearly two weeks in Havana and having recovered from the tortuous journey from the Cuban capital to my neck of the woods, I decided to find out what had been going on here in my absence.

At around this time every year, theCaribbean Culture Festival or Fiesta del Fuego (“Fire Festivities”) is held in Santiago de Cuba. The news going around the city, however, didn’t have to do with the festival, but with an incident involving a number of dissidents (members of UNPACU, according to the popular version of events).

They say that, a week before the start of the Caribbean culture festivities, a hearing at the Provincial Court of Santiago de Cuba was being held with one or several dissident(s). I haven’t confirmed this information.

In the meantime, I hear, a number of individuals carried out an act of vandalism, setting on fire a billboard showing the gigantic faces of Fidel and Raul Castro and a text about the city of Santiago de Cuba. Naturally, they were captured almost immediately.

As you might assume, people are careful not to make any comments about the burning of the sign in public, because no one knows who is who and nobody wants to end up in an interrogation room all of a sudden.

Sarcasm, however, is an essential ingredient of the daily life of Santiago de Cuba, and people had to make some kind of joke out of the incident. Every July 9th, the last day of the Caribbean Culture Festival, an enormous totem built out of rustic materials, symbolizing evil and referred to as the “devil”, is burned at Santiago de Cuba’s main, tree-lined avenue.

A gigantic pyre is built under the totem and, around this, people sing and dance to the beating of drums in a sudden, convulsive ritual. Someone with a keen sense of humor established an analogy between this ritual and the incident involving the dissidents. That’s why some people have been saying that the “burning of the devil” was done a few days ahead of schedule this year.

So, that’s what things are like down here these days: plenty of partying, vandalism and sarcasm.