Cuba’s Snitches: The “Tavos”


Havana Police Patrol.

Since Cuba’s television networks cut back on the production of telenovelas (soap operas) a good while back, the past few months they’ve been showing reruns of the popular police series “Día y Noche” (Day and Night), originally broadcast several years ago.

In this series is a character known as “Tavo” (short for Octavio), who is an agent of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) with the mission of infiltrating the ranks of the murky Cuban underworld of the 1990s.

Previously here in Cuba, people who “snitched,” “blew the whistle,” or betrayed someone (however one wishes to call the act of informing on a fellow human) were known as chivas (literally “goats,” for their loud crying).  However, since Tavo appeared on our TV screens, we’ve added his name as a synonym for informer.

There are several details about both this character and the series in general that attract one’s attention.

On one hand, like in the famous novel “El hombre que fue jueves” (The Man Who Was Thursday), a new chiva appears in almost all of the episodes; that’s to say, figures who seem to be criminals but really aren’t.  It turns out they’re undercover police informants.

It’s not necessary to belong to the PNR to be a chiva. These are often people who have other occupations and carry out this “work” voluntarily.

After watching episode after episode, you begin to get the feeling there are only two or three real criminals left in Havana – the rest are all chivas.

The result: You can’t move or look from one side to the other without running into someone working for State Security.

As long as I can remember situations like these have occurred in real life.  When expressing our opinions here, we first look around, because anyone can be connected to State Security.  This is something we’ve learned and internalized as something almost natural.

In the last few episodes of “Día y Noche,” the character of Tavo had a moral dilemma: He discovered that his best friend from childhood was in the new criminal ring he was assigned to infiltrate.

“He’s my friend, he’s a good guy,” Tavo protested.

“But he no longer thinks like you,” replied his police officer contact.

Friendship doesn’t matter.  There can be no friendship if the other person doesn’t think the same way.  That’s to say, one has to adhere to a solitary view, a sole opinion, a single way of being – a single God.

What’s all this about? …some sort of patriarchal Judaism?

What thoughts race around in the mind of a person who pretends to be someone they’re not, or who they believe themself to be?

How can somebody make someone else believe they’re a friend who can be counted on?  How can they go so far as to do or say things that will lead the other person to prison only to fulfill their mission?

Will they be able to teach their children the feeling of friendship, so exalted by our national hero Jose Marti?  Will they have the ability to trust another person who they can call a friend?  To what degree will they end up being a victim of their own game?

When we are in presence of a chiva, we’re left with no alternative except to feel disdain, irritation, pity.  But if they’re young and if they are associated with culture, the effect is disconcerting and often incredible.

But we have such persons in the police series too.  They’re young, attractive and quick with a witty comeback.  They serve or let themselves be used for who knows what reasons.

From the moment we’re born, the idea is introduced that “anyone can be one.”  It’s a given that we’ll all become distrustful; we’ll avoid saying what is not wished to be heard; we’ll try to distance ourselves from those who attract too much attention, because attracting attention can be ludicrous, dangerous, treacherous.

There are many methods of betrayal (through manipulation and others).  Tavo demonstrates some of these, while frightening us at the same time.  But this doesn’t mean we cannot discover the rest.

As somebody said recently, Tavo’s most effective method —apart from attracting attention— is dividing people.

Draw your own conclusions.

7 thoughts on “Cuba’s Snitches: The “Tavos”

  • Sr. Lipmann

    Su juicio sobre HT y la Seguridad Cubana debía ser matizado. El primero ofrece diversas miradas de nuestra realidad, menos complacientes que la prensa oficial aunque menos desencantadas que la de muchos compatriotas. Le comento algo: en mi infancia disfrutábamos de series donde los agentes cubanos luchaban contra la CIA, y los restos de la burguesía que conspiraban en el país. Ahora parece que se dedican a vigilar artistas, intelectuales o ciudadanos de a pie. Mi cuñado es oficial de la Contrainteligencia y su misión número 1 es “operar” contra voces críticas…y hasta se les inventan pruebas de recibir dinero de EEUU para deslegitimarlos. En la despolitización de la sociedad cubana entran al MININT muchachos movidos por ambición no por mística revolucionaria..les pormeten celulares, carros, PODER. No es culpa del MININT sino de un régimen que deforma su misión de “escudo de la nación” para controlar un pueblo que pide cambios, muchos posibles dentro…

  • Compare, for example, the “policier” film, “The Departed” (wherein the Leo DiCaprio character plays an undercover cop who infiltrates the Boston underworld, whilist the Matt Damon character plays a police detective at headquarters who, at the service of a crime syndicate, infiltrates the State Police!) with the series of which Yorkanka speaks (which, incidentally, can be seen if you log onto Cubavision; last week when I logged on, expecting a baseball game, instead, I saw an episode of this series). There really is something sacred about friendship that supercedes any greater allegiances. If your friend is involved in any illegial activity against which you have strong feelings of antipathy, then moral suasion should be used and, failing that, then perhaps the friendship should be broken. But to betray a friend–or former friend–that would be extremely distasteful. Such a conflict could be the basis for an outstanding novel or film–as I’m sure has already been the case.

  • “What’s this all about?…some sort of patriarchal Judaism? !LOL!
    In our culture, and I daresay any culture, there’s a natural antipathy towards the “snitch.” This antipathy is relative, of course. Snitching against those who have joined the “grey” or underground economy in order to survive, such as those renting videos, selling food, building supplies (even when purloined from the state), etc., is reprehensible. On the other hand, those who direct the narcotic or prostitution trades, etc., or who would seek to hurt the Revolution by promoting counter-revolutionary violence, well, that is another matter. Still, using friendships, even in the latter, more serious, catagories, does pose certain psychological and moral conflicts, and it is hard to say in advance what I would do in each and every case. I guess it would depend upon whether people would get hurt, or lives would be lost, through “ratting” on a friend.

  • Yordanka, the most valuable idea you raise may be at the last of your article: the idea of “dividing people.”

    When the socialist movement threatened capitalism in the mid-1800s, the capitalists and bankers needed to divide the people and alienate large sectors from the newborn socialist movement. This was done by ideological moles.

    It was necessary to divide the industrial working class from the urban and rural small bourgeoisie. Marxism came in and spat on the “petty bourgeoisie,” calling them not just conservative, but reactionary and anti-socialist.

    It did the same thing sort of thing with religion, spitting on it and classifying religious belief as anti-socialist and anti-worker.

    By splitting the small business sectors from the workers politically, and handing them over to the leadership of the grand bourgeoisie, the revolution was dealt a severe blow. The same “dividing” blow was delivered by spitting on religious belief and practice.

  • Or turning in people who sell food, building supplies or household items on the black market. Or make extra money for their families by selling/renting Films or CDs on the side…or otherwise doing some kind of work “on the left” or “under the table”. Everyone in Cuba is involved in some kind of illicit activity in order to survive. Therefore informants have the whole breath of society with whom to snitch on.

  • HAVANA TIMES provides a service by telling us about Cuban cop shows, which play a role similar to cop shows in the United States. Cuban television presents lots of US cop shows, and other materials from US television as well. They are quite popular on the island. And Cuba has its own domestically-produced cop shows as well.

    Here’s a note from GRANMA about another Cuban cop show:
    New Police Series on Cuban TV

    HAVANA TIMES unfortunately seems to find much delight in attacking Cuban television and the Cuban government in commentaries such as this one.

    You could easily get the impression, from this, that the editors think there’s something wrong with turning in pimps, drug dealers, human traffickers and agents of foreign governments like that of the US who are working feverishly to destabilize Cuban society.

  • Historically the term “informer” has been used to refer to police agents of the political establishment who infiltrate and betray organizations, movements and individual leaders in struggles for social justice.

    The Irish Republican Army, the Black Panther Party, the Communist Party, USA, the Socialist Workers Party which I formerly belonged to, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, and many others have been victims of infiltration betrayal.

    Criminals plays corrosive role in Cuba. Those who turn in drug dealers, human traffickers and such are responsible citizens who should be praised, not sneered at.

    Political opponents of Cuba’s government, often funded by Washington, have also been the focus of responsible citizens and Cuba’s security services. You can read about their work in a book called THE DISSIDENTS:

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