On Paranoia and Fear in Cuba

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Imprisoned graffiti artist El Sexto.
Imprisoned graffiti artist El Sexto.

HAVANA TIMES — During a hearty, after-meal chat around a table laden with the remains of foul-smelling pizzas and enlivened by boisterous laughter, a friend of ours jokingly “lamented” the little attention and affection shown him by Cuba’s DTI (intelligence department).

He ironically referred to the possibility of being called to a meeting, where he could feel the love of these zealous comrades.

I believe the conversation about this began when he mentioned that, a few days after attending a concert held at dissident rocker Gorki Aguila’s house as part of a campaign calling for the release of Cuban graffiti artist “El Sexto,” he received a strange phone call from a friend he hadn’t known about for a long time.

The estranged friend was talking to him rather oddly over the phone, asking for unusual information about the state of Cuban visual arts, his future projects and aspects related to his work, about which he had never told him.

As both are immersed in the art world, my friend only occasionally doubted his interlocutor’s true intentions. If the fellow was actually working for State Security, why was he being so clumsy?

This type of distrust is very common among Cubans – people’s ingrained paranoia, a question that seems a little too insistent or a slightly ambiguous answer can sow panic among people who have known each other their entire lives.

My friend is one of the few who isn’t afraid of ghosts. The call could have come from the highest spheres of power and he would have spoken as sincerely as he was speaking to us then.

His art tends to be anti-establishment. He often does street-art without previous authorization, but his intention isn’t to get arrested and become renowned this way, as some do, but to be as honest with himself as he can.

He isn’t afraid of what his neighbor, friend or CDR might say about his behavior, or that Cuban State Security may harass him. His fear is of a different nature, having to do with someday being denied the possibility of doing his art.

Yanelys Nuñez

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva: Writing is to expose oneself, undress before the inquisitive eyes of all. I like to write, not because I have developed a real fondness for nudity, but because I love composing words, thinking of stories, phrases that touch, images that provoke different feelings. Here I have a place to talk about art, life, me. In the end, feeling good about what you do is what matters; either with or without clothing.

10 thoughts on “On Paranoia and Fear in Cuba

  • Yet thousands have risked their lives in rubber rafts to come to the US such is the repression in Cuba’s suffocating Marxist police state. No rafts are ever seen going the other way.

  • Graffiti art or else is persecuted everywhere, you may do it only with a license and/or permission from the wall’s owner; here in Canada, the USA, or anywhere in the world, you tag or paint on someone else’s wall and you get busted if caught. Political graffiti will get you killed, beaten up, jailed, raped or all of the above in a lot of places in this world. But to get back to the main question, I find Cubans in Cuba to be extremely paranoid to the point of ridiculousness. After a hearty political discussion about repression in Cuba, in Cuban Spanish at a packed La Bodeguita del Medio (downtown Havana tourist bar-restaurant made famous by Hemingway) with 2 Cuban “dissidents” on a Sunday afternoon. I asked why the “secret police” had not come to arrest us already and one of the guys said: “They don’t arrest you for talking, they arrest you for doing”. Gee, Well, it’s like that all over mate, except in a lot of other places, just talking will get you attacked or killed. Try shouting “I like Fidel Castro’s beard” in Little Havana on a Saturday night…

  • Inspiring fear and the incitement of mutual distrust is part and parcel of the standard way the regime operates

  • Who cares???? They are killing blacks on a weekly basis….. The very same State Machinery which is supposed to protect them.
    Never mind. This is not a human rights issue.

  • No

  • You obviously never saw the videos of the cops hauling off the guy who wrote anti-bank bailout messages in front of Citi Bank in NY – in chalk.

  • I wonder if your drink Castros’s cool aid bc calling Banksywith international Art gallerias, Shows, an exhibition in NYC new museum, and four published book dessident. You have to be intoxicated.

  • The mere fact that we are talking about a street artist and the Castros security apparatus in the same breath speaks volumes about the Castro security paranoia. I mean, after all, if you let just anyone paint public walls, the fall of your regime can’t be far behind.

  • At least someone–or someones–is paying attention to the art–and the artistic preferences–of your friend, albeit that someone is THE STATE! This reflects the inspirations and principles of the Cuban State, which ultimately traces its roots not only to Marxism, but also to the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, as revealed in THE REPUBLIC, where Socrates indicates that the state should take an active role in regulating the arts. Of course the capitalists states and the imperialist powers do much the same thing, though their techniques, as analysed by Herbert Marcuse in ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN, are much more subtle, since imperial states have many more resources at their disposal (i.e their control of most of the mainstream media means that much dissident art is frozen out and never sees the light of day, or such dissident art that does is often co-opted). Occasionally, such dissident art does see the light of day (e.g. Bastiate, Banksy, etc.), but little play in the mass media. What is worse? Receiving some “attention,” like your friend does from state security? Or receiving no attention, as is the case with many talented and insightful artists in the empire?

  • Well Yanelys, at least you got the title right – “Paranoia” a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically elaborated into an organized system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, of drug abuse, or of a serious condition such as schizophrenia in which the person loses touch with reality. You live in Cuba, not Mexico, Colombia or Honduras. Thank your lucky stars.

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