This Cuban’s Cursed Paranoia

Francisco Castro

Canal HabanaHAVANA TIMES — Call me paranoid if you like, but, folks, I smell a rat and I want to catch it before it can slip away.

Recently, I shared some of my small, daily joys with the readers of Havana Times. One of them was discovering a television program with an outrageously gay character for a host, aired by Cuba’s Canal Habana.

This had caught my attention, given the evident homophobia that permeates most programs on Cuban television. I commented on how the show was being aired less and less and speculated about possible reasons for this, saying the most likely candidate was the gay character.

Being something of a paranoid fellow, I wrote, almost as an afterthought, that the show was likely to be cancelled. Guess what…I was right.

After a couple weeks of hearing nothing about this summer special, the start of a new show in its time slot was announced. This one has the same host (not gay, this time), the same set design, just about the same sections and, as you might have imagined, no traces of homosexuality anywhere.

In fact, there are no traces of sexuality at all, homo or hetero (one of the best things the previous characters used to enliven the show). There are no traces of the lack of inhibition or the glamour that had struck me as unusual for Cuban television and had therefore caught my eye.

What I sensed now was, rather, a slight smell of fear. Fear of stepping across the line of official prohibitions. Though the host hasn’t changed and neither has his jovial personality, one gets the sense that he has been whipped into shape by Big Brother’s belt.

“Behave, kiddo, there are things you just don’t do on Cuban television.”

Some of the people behind the show, however, have made their complaints known, or so it seems to me. If that’s not the case, if I’m just being paranoid again, then I assume full responsibility for this impression.

The pilot of this “new program” opened with a song by the Cuban band Buena Fe, “La culpa” (“Guilt”). The dancers held red handkerchiefs in their hands. Later in the show, the host improvised a choreography with the audience to the rhythm of “Baile del buey cansao” (“Dance of the Tired Ox”), a piece by Cuban timba band Los Van Van.

Though many consider Buena Fe part of the spectacle put together by the government (intent on giving the appearance that it is relaxing its censorship), the fact of the matter is that many of their songs contain strong social and even political criticisms, and the number staged on the show refers to guilt, to the familiar circumstance in which, when people are called in to account for their actions, no one ever assumes responsibility for anything. A subtle comment on responsibility.

What about the red handkerchiefs? Bull fighters use red flags to get bulls to charge. A subtle comment on provocations.

Now, the song. I don’t know what circumstances led to the disappearance of this song. When it was first performed, Los Van Van regained the popularity they had begun to lose. With respect to its use on the show, I feel it is a kind of veiled reference to the decrepitude of the old founding fathers, who continue to cling to power desperately, and that this power will soon begin to slip through their fingers like sand. A subtle comment on the system’s decadence.

Come on, you’re likely to say. Who’s to say there is any meaning to these things? Who’s to say it’s anything other than my paranoia acting up again?

Whenever I see something, I comment on it, that’s all I can say. And, believe me, you don’t need to be particularly perceptive to notice these things. The ox is tired of charging at red flags and ultimately slips on its own guilt. He falls again and again, its legs spread out, exposing its filthy innards, unshielded from public scrutiny, from the blows which become ever more numerous and stronger. The day will come when the ox is unable to get up again.

Then, you’ll stop calling me paranoid and everything will be seen in its true light.

Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro:Everything becomes simpler when one crosses the line of thirty. That does not make it easier, but rather the opposite. There I am on the other side of the line, trying to figure out, what little I know about art, politics, economy ... life, how to move without breaking oaths that seemed essential, how not to give up, how to make the years spent into a beacon to the future.