State of Shock in Today’s Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 25 — In her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein* notes that in the middle of the 20th century, the CIA funded psychological research aimed at deconstructing and infantilizing human minds using electroshock treatment, drugs, sensory isolation, the monotonous repetition of signs and other techniques whose ethics were at least questionable.

The US Army currently practices these procedures on “less than loquacious” prisoners in Guantanamo and other military bases, but Klein reports that these methods have also been applied on large masses of individuals with the aim of disturbing, infantilizing and blocking their resistance to private control over public governance. This is what she calls “Shock Capitalism.”

Reading her compelling work, a question was born in my mind: Have we Cubans been the victims of a similar conspiracy?

Many people think that the recurrent shortage of at least one of our rationed staples isn’t accidental but deliberate, intended to keep people “distracted.” Until yesterday that seemed like an exaggeration to me, but today my head is spinning.

From the stories that circulate around here, it seems that at least Villa Marista [the Havana prison of Cuban State Security] was aware of the research funded by the CIA, especially those having to do with isolation, temperature changes and confusing day and night (people have never mentioned electroshock treatment).

Photo: Irina Echarry

But if these were known about in that political prison, why wouldn’t those in the Ideological Department of the Central Committee [that controls Cuba’s media] have been aware of the same thing?

Is the mass media isolation we experience a fluke? Was it a coincidence that our period of infancy (dubbed the “nestling syndrome”) was lengthened by the total subsidization and control by the government of everything that can be subsidized and controlled?

Is it by mere chance that we’re subjected to the indiscriminate bombardment of repetitive images containing the word “revolutionary”?

At least to me, the ubiquitous face of Fidel and other commanders and heroes generates a real mental shock that momentarily diminishes (with malaise) my capacity for rational discernment.

I do not know if I’m paranoid, but after reading Klein, those in charge of political propaganda no longer seem like yawning bureaucrats waiting for their retirement or death. Now I view them as experts in mass manipulation.

Why doesn’t someone tell me: what impression are they trying to create with that huge billboard on Boyeros Avenue where there’s a multitude of indistinguishable faces (“the people”) under the benevolent gaze (a giant one with a well-defined face) of Fidel Castro?

The last thing I want to do is to spend another minute of my life revolving around that man, but look how I’m losing my mind? They’ve done it again.

* Naomi Klein is a Canadian journalist and researcher who has had significant influence on the anti-globalization movement and democratic socialism.

2 thoughts on “State of Shock in Today’s Cuba

  • It seems more likely, Erasmo, is that the massive billboard on Boyeros Avenue signifies Fidel bidding a fond farewell to his people as he passes into history. Many of the delegates to the Party congress in April realized this, as reflected in the tears in their eyes as they applauded his entry onto and exit from the dais. What comes next for Cuba? That is up to YOU, and other Cubans, both inside and outside, the Party, and in and off, the island. Just be careful for what you wish. You might just get it–only to find out it wasn’t what you REALLY wanted. To reiterate, however, this is your (singular and plural) decision to make. In an ideal world, elements of both unitary and plural systems ought to be combined. Here we are tending towards a unitarian system–the unitary idiocy of consumerism combined with the devastation of the environment!

  • Oh I’ve read that book. Very good by the way. However, if there was anything resembling the “shock doctrine” as Klein defined in Cuba, it would be the “Special Period”, which opened the way for international tourism and foreign capital invested in the island.

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