Cuba Gets a Needed Dose of Political Humor

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES – Philologist Rolando Jacomino Páez is the person behind the alias “Siro4el”, promoter of “The Lumpen” (1), a web page of political humor. From the outset, when no one suspected that his interviews were imaginary, his work has been hitting nerves.

An artist friend was the first person to tell me about Siro. He was indignant because a bogus interview with him had appeared. At that moment, I agreed with him that the manipulation of the media had reached record levels.

Luckily, before I was “interviewed” I had already learned that Siro wasn’t a fraud, but a new star of cyberspace. Political humor made its way into Cuba without a warning and without asking for permission, joking about things that up until now had been considered untouchable.

The initial indignation was understandable. However, the curious thing is that even today, despite the absurdity of his interviews and news items, many people continue to take them seriously, as evidenced by the angry reactions of more than one person when I share an article from “The Lumpen” on Facebook.

Rolando Jacomino assures that his main source of information for his jokes is the newspaper Granma, although “The New Herald also supplies me with a lot of material.”

The repercussions that the page has had have been incredible, not only in Cuba but also outside the country – if you could call Miami that. Recently, the owners of the Versailles restaurant found themselves obliged to publicly refute the Lumpen in order to put the brakes on the loss of customers.

The loyal patrons of the restaurant, an emblem of anti-Castro sentiment, stopped coming when the Lumpen “informed” them that as of Tuesday, July 2, 2015, any show of opposition to the Cuban government will be absolutely prohibited.” (2).

The “official” note also announced the opening of a branch in Havana because, “given the reestablishment of diplomatic relations” between Cuba and the US “it’s time to bury the hatchet of war and to work together for the future of our Homeland.”

The crisis reached such proportion that the restaurant’s operations’ manager found it necessary to tell the press that “the Versailles and its outside areas continue to remain open to the media and to all those who wish to gather here to discuss any topic, including those which concern Cuba.” (3)

The transcendence of The Lumpen can only be explained by the lack of political humor among Cubans. And I’m not referring to making fun of the “enemy” but of being capable of satirizing Greeks and Trojans alike, of having enough irreverence to put all and sundry on the hot seat.

This Miami restaurant had to come out and clarify that they continue to be as anti-Castro as ever to bring back their clientele who had been scared away by the Lumpen.

Up until now, “political humor” has consisted of satirizing Fidel Castro in Miami and making fun of the Congresswoman Iliana Ross in Cuba. The Lumpen has broken this mold and has US citizen Alan Gross eating codfish croquettes at the home of Fidel Castro.

They affirm that Elian Gonzalez has returned to Miami, and that the colonel in charge of censorship has threatened: “from now on, any journalist that doesn’t jump through the hoops will get their butts kicked.” Later the website assured that Hialeah (Miami) wants to host the main celebration of July 26, the most celebrated date on the Cuban revolution calendar.

The Lumpen has made fun of Miguel Saavedra’s protest in Miami against Obama’s policies towards Cuba, stating that 5 people concurred, and assures us that Donald Trump plans to erect an anti-immigrant wall along the Florida straits if he wins the election.

The paradox is that despite the sense of humor that Cubans have, their politicians take jokes so badly. It’s long past time that some topics be taken up in a more entertaining form, because by now it’s impossible to take them seriously.

Every year the national press reflects the death by starvation, thirst or slaughter of thousands of head of cattle. The speeches of the people responsible for that situation, following their repeated failures, deserve – at the very least – to be held up to public scorn.

The prices set by the government for automobiles has meant that this half-century old and dissembled vehicle, with no steering wheel nor differential and with the motor in pieces is being offered for US $11,500. It’s a story worthy of the Lumpen.

And what could we say about the prices of vehicles? I myself didn’t believe it until I saw them with my own eyes at the Peugeot dealership. It seems like one of the Lumpen’s jokes to see a normal sort of automobile priced at a quarter of a million dollars.

Jacomino has no lack of possible topics: the functioning of public transport; food prices; the tariffs set by the Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA; the potholes in the streets; or the crusades against The weekly Packet (downloaded TV and computer programs and news items from the foreign press, including speeches of the dissidents or the broken record commentaries from Miami.)

Speaking for myself, as someone who suffers from the habit of taking things too seriously, reading the works of The Lumpen has been a breath of fresh air. I hope he continues to make us laugh with his “exclusives” and with those exquisite interviews, which are “news” to the interviewees themselves.

At any rate, the satiric writer has assured us that he isn’t trying to offend anybody and if his texts disturbed any of the readers they could e-mail their complaints to: Rolando Jacomino, Picota St. S/N, c/o San Antonio y Maisi, Cuba.*
* Since this is a serious post, I should clarify that the name and address of The Lumpen aren’t the real ones. The rest seriously reflects my point of view regarding The Lumpen.

(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

3 thoughts on “Cuba Gets a Needed Dose of Political Humor

  • I know the store you are referring to ….probably. It’s on calle 8 next to the Home Depot and sells novelty items and Cuban memorabilia from the 40’s and 50’s including old year books from Cuban schools like Belen and Maristas I personally loved the Che toilet paper. But perhapse your wifes discomfort with this sort of sarcasm has its roots in the many years of indoctrination received as child in Cuba, a Stockholm Syndrome like remnant.

  • The first time my wife and I visited a gift shop in Little Havana, I saw a novelty roll of toilet paper with a different photo of Fidel Castro on every sheet. I thought it was hilarious even though in poor taste. But my Cuban wife, far from a Castro fan, didn’t find it funny at all. Since then I have come to believe that even freedom loving Cubans like my wife still maintain some off-limits areas regarding certain jokes about the failed revolution and the tyrannical Castros. It’s akin to Jews and the Holocaust and African-Americans and slavery.

  • Political humour is a healthy outlet for the frustrations of life in any society. Let’s hope that the Lumpen is allowed to continue.

    On a somewhat related note, I read in a tweet from Cuba today that the writer Angel Santestieban has been released from jail. He was tried and sentenced on trumped up domestic violence charges, as a means to shut down his blog. His posts were often sharply critical of the Castro regime.

    It is hoped that Santestieban will be able to write and publish now that he is out of the Cuban jail. No doubt the authorities will keep him on a short leash.

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