Gossip and Gags about Obama’s visit to Cuba

By Beatrice Pignatelli

Obama 2HAVANA TIMES – These days you don’t need to walk far in the island’s capital to overhear a curious (and often amusing) comment about President Obama’s much-awaited visit. In the traditional Cuban fashion, humor and irony mix with banter and gossip as the whole of Havana buzzes with expectation.

“Do you know what they’re calling Obama?” yells the taxi driver over the blare of the radio as we pass under the tunnel of Linea.  “El Eleggua” he chuckles. “Because he’ll open the paths for us.”

In Santería and popular belief El Eleggua is recognized as the Orisha (spirit) that looks after the paths of life – he opens and closes them. He is also recognized as the trickster, who likes to play jokes on people.

The taxi driver’s reflection couldn’t have been more spot on. It was just yesterday that President Obama’s good humor was leaked via social media and is now gracing the living rooms of the world via national news from the BBC to CNN.  His readiness to be the ‘butt of a joke’ himself , in his unexpected appearance with “Panfilo”, the protagonist of Cuba’s most popular weekly comedy show “Vivir del Cuento” (trans: Living on ones wits), has endeared him to the Cuban people.

Obama talks with Panfilo
Obama talks with Panfilo

Sharing the well-known Cuban sense of humor, the U.S. President answers a phone call to the White House from Panfilo, played by Luis Silva, in Spanish, with the idiosyncratic cubanismo: “que bola?” (What’s up?). Panfilo warns Obama about the every-day Cuban problems and assures him that he will ‘resolve’ transport from the airport and a casa particular (bed and breakfast) in the capital. Obama assures him that he is “impatient” to arrive on the island, adding  that “the Cuban people and the American people are friends.” The ‘sketch’ seems to be a trailer for Pánfilo´s Monday regular spot on Cuban national television.

As if they are expecting the arrival of a long-lost friend, Cubans are desperate to “let the President know” what has been going on here in his absence.

I will tell everythingTraveling back from work the other day, a friend tripped over a drunk in the street waving an empty bottle over his head and screaming at the top of his lungs: “When the negrito comes, I’m going to tell him EVERYTHING that’s been going on here”.

Obama’s name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Cubans are adopting him, they’re cubanizing him, appropriating his persona as one of them. It is not only Obama’s “opening of doors” but rather his personable approach and love of a joke which is winning their hearts.


8 thoughts on “Gossip and Gags about Obama’s visit to Cuba

  • November 4, 2017 at 9:10 pm
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    Mr. Donald Trump relates to our Domestic Terrorists, the KKK, and white supremacists, the burn Churches and kill people.

  • March 23, 2016 at 9:06 pm
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    ” Works for a government news outlet”

    Wow. Just the idea of that is scary.

  • March 21, 2016 at 1:14 am
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    In the fall of 1962 the Cuban missile crisis broke out. Wishing in some measure to repay the benefit that he had received from living in the United States, and seeing clearly the catastrophic threat imposed by the missiles in Cuba, the Venerable Master embarked on a total fast for thirty-five days, during which he took only water. He dedicated the merit of his sacrifice to end the hostilities.

    Excerpt from

    The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua Brings the Dharma to the West

    by Ron Epstein

  • March 20, 2016 at 10:22 pm
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    I love the affectionate term, ” negrito”, I love the Cubans. Always have.

  • March 20, 2016 at 9:10 pm
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    Obama also jokes about killing w/ his drone strikes. So cuddly,

  • March 20, 2016 at 1:08 pm
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    A very interesting article in the New York Times on President Obamas trip to Cuba.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/world/americas/cuba-obama-visit-havana-dissidents.html?_r=0

    Does a Potemkin village come to mind?

    Another quote:

    “…One young reporter who works for a major government news outlet said he was brought into a room two weeks ago along with his colleagues and reminded that anything they posted to social media regarding Mr. Obama’s time in Cuba would result in more than just a slap on the wrist. No photographs, no commentary, no interviews with foreign reporters; not even private discussions with friends…..“It’s censorship,” he said. “You can’t say anything good or bad.”

  • March 20, 2016 at 11:15 am
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    I wonder if Obama can muster a joke about all the non-existent street animals that have been snatched and poisoned! (rhetorical)

  • March 20, 2016 at 9:50 am
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    Cubans appreciate President Barack Obama so much.We get him and respect what he tries to do in the face of obstruction and racismo. He will be missed and history will prove the value of his efforts. Hope and Change was a worthwhile and valiant devotion. Proud to have worked for this man, thrilled that my lifelong dream of American and Cuban amistad is finally possible. This day.

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