Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES — Last week, a story apparently circulated through computers in Havana, and it still must be going around.

I got a call at home telling me bad news, something that sounded awful. The news was alerting people about the supposed theft of tanks of oil from the Guanabacoa Crematorium (where corpses are cremated). Included was a list of the 16 people involved.

In essence, the message warned about buying cooking oil without knowing its origin. This was because, according to the person who spread the information, oil had been extracted from cadavers at that facility.

Once robbed, this product had possibly been added to the list goods offered in our informal or black market.

I guess — people! — that the first reaction of this person who reported the supposed incident to me was to tell all her acquaintances and spread the word by warning people (more like alarming them) about something she hadn’t stopped to think might have been illogical.

To my knowledge, with mammals one cannot extract anything more than fat and cooking oil comes from plants. In addition, I was told that these furnaces are lit long before they put any bodies inside, so there wouldn’t be time for this siphoning to occur. It’s also worth remembering that water, blood and fat are burnt off before the flesh.

In addition, according to a friend of mine, family members are present while this act is done; though I don’t know for sure. It should also be noted that among us Cubans it’s not so common to cremate our loved ones, so obviously there aren’t very many cremations here.

What this made me start thinking about was the effect this news would have on a population that depends in part on the black market.

At the end of the explanation given to me by this well-intentioned messenger, she repeated over and over again that she wasn’t going to buy any more oil ever again – “just in case.”

Does this mean that people still fear “urban legends,” and that any alarm has the effect of setting these off?

Is it that we’re somehow concretely reliving the worst days of the Special Period crisis – when condoms were put in pizzas to look like cheese, and beans were sold as peanuts, mop-head threads were marketed as steak, turkey vultures hawked for real turkeys, and even (some people say) human livers were eaten by some people believing they were from some other animal.

Right now we’re at a point where such things can turn into veritable stampedes.


Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

2 thoughts on “Terrorized Over Cooking Oil?

  • ‘Moses’, you are truly revolting to witness, using any story that appears on HT as an excuse to promote your country – btw, the one that’s responsible for much of Cuba’s economic problems.

    I’m seriously beginning to wonder if you just might be a double agent – employed by Cuba’s government to impersonate an American to make them seem like absolute assholes (not that Americans aren’t doing a fine job of it without needing Cuba’s help).

    You use this minor example of what happens when rumours get started to claim that it’s caused by “a single source of official information” that makes Cubans more “gullible” to “rumour-mongering.”

    In one short Anglo-Saxon word, BULLSHIT. The rumour DID NOT come from an official source. It came from computers. Regina was quite capable of using logic to dispel the rumour – cooking oil cannot be extracted from mammals, only fat, crematorium furnaces are lit long before they put any bodies inside, family members are present while this act is done.

    Rumours and so-called ‘urban legends’ abound on the web, one of the downsides of being ‘plugged in’. To compensate, there are a number of websites that can be used that document them, plus you can google to see what is said about them. Cubans clearly need better access to the web it but Regina got by using common sense. It still works.

    In ‘Moses’ bullshit fantasy, “trusted official yet non-state media sources” are able to act as ombudsman”. Where? Not in my world, and living in a country with a leg up from his in social responsibility, not likely in his.

    Outrageously, ‘Moses’ claims Americans “have more responsive means to investigate and separate the truth from the lies.” Like with the notorious WMD big lie?

    Maybe Americans are able to sort out cooking oil myths, but on the really important issues involving the lives and well-being of millions of people – 11 million in Cuba alone – Americans are Neanderthals.

  • The more dependent Cuban people are on a single source of öfficial¨in formation and the more untrustworthy that single source becomes, the more gullible Cubans become to this sort of ridiculous rumor-mongering. If there were trusted official yet non-state media sources who were able to act as ömbudsman¨ for the average Cuban consumer, these types of urban myths would have much shorter lives and be far less outrageous. US consumers face the same vulnerabilities but we have more responsive means to investigate and separate the truth from the lies.

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