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Cuban-Americans, the best present for your parents. Make them laugh!



(Chistes de Cuba sobre la revolución)

By Manuel Tellecheaa
Translator of "Simple Verses" by José Martí

Published by Arte Publico Press of the University of Houston

Cuba is the birthplace of magical realism: there the truth often masquerades as a joke, and jokes often conceal the truths that cannot be spoken. There is someone in a Cuban jail right now who was convicted of a "subversive dream." While waiting on line with hundreds of others to receive that week's rations of beans or sugar (for even sugar is rationed now in what was once the World's Sugarbowl), this hopeless innocent related a dream he had the previous night about someone assassinating the maximum leader. He was reported immediately to the authorities and has never again committed the crime of dreaming in public. This is not a joke, although in a world where everything revolves around the whims, follies and phobias of one omnipotent individual, life is one endless joke for those caught in that nightmare.

The joke began on January 1, 1959 and is now the world's longest running joke. It has transformed a nation that once had the third-highest GNP in the Western Hemisphere into a pauper state. It has endeavored to turn a people once proverbially happy and carefree into a grim pessimistic tribe of automatons where individuality and initiative are punished and passivity and stagnation is the only way of life. This is the real legacy of the Cuban Revolution, and a legion of doctors setting the bones that the Secret Police break, or a legion of teachers teaching the young how not to think, cannot change that reality.

The monumentally thin-skinned Fidel Castro and his delicate brother Raul ("Big Brother" and "Little Brother") have always been targets for the humor of the Cuban people. The first newspaper that Castro suppressed upon taking power in Cuba in 1959 was not, as most believe, the Diario de la Marina (founded in 1832), the country's oldest newspaper and an inveterate enemy of Communism before and after the Revolution. No, the first newspaper that Castro ordered shut was Zig-Zag, Cuba's Mad Magazine. He next banned Cuba's most beloved comedian, Leopoldo Fernandez ("Trespatines"), because while performing on a stage with a large portrait of Fidel Castro, he had quipped pointing to Castro's picture: "And that one there, we have to hang him very high."

In the next 45 years, there would be no more jokes told in public in Cuba. (In 1965, the Cuban Scrooge also banned the celebration of Christmas in this Catholic country, a ban that stood until the pope's visit to Cuba 30 years later). But the Cuban people did not lose their sense of humor, now steeped in pathos, but took it underground. Twenty years ago, a brave and resourceful man living in Cuba, Modesto Arocha, began to compile these jokes about the Revolution and managed to smuggle his collection out of the country. Now this book, published in the U.S. and banned, of course, in Cuba, stands as a monument to the indomitable spirit of a few heroic (and funny) men like Arocha who would not let the laughter die in Cuba amid the endless din of propaganda.

Laughter can be a cry of despair as much as tears can be an expression of joy. There are essentially two ways to deal with the predations and privations of tyrannical rule -- to surrender to its authority and become its slave or accomplice; or to fight it with the only weapons at your disposal -- contempt and ridicule sublimated into humor.

Now we offer a few samples of these subversive jokes, collected in Cuba, which display the Emperor and his stooges as they are really seen by the Cuban people:


"During a speech, Castro asks: "Is there one, only one among you, who is hungry?" A poor hapless man raises his hands. He is immediately seized by the police and forced to drink a glass of water, then another, and yet another, until he has drunk ten altogether. Then Castro asks him: "Are you still hungry?" The man replies: "No, Comandante, I am not hungry." "Well, you see," replies Fidel, "you really weren't hungry; what you were was thirsty."

In the middle of a speech Fidel is interrupted by a man who cries out: "We want the oppression of the people to end." "Arrest that man," Castro orders. "No, you can't do that," the dissident protests, "because the Socialist Constitution guarantees the right of free speech." "Yes, you are very right," replies Fidel: "Arrest instead everyone who heard him."

In another speech, Fidel tells the people: "We only have wood chips to eat." The people chant in unison: "Give us wood chips, give us wood chips!" A week later, Fidel tells them: "Now we only have stones to eat." And the people shout: "Give us stones, give us stones!" Six months later, Fidel tells the people: "Good news! A ship with humanitarian assistance (food) has just arrived in the port of Havana." And the people shout :"Give us teeth, give us teeth!"

Before the Revolution, there used to be a sign at the Havana Zoo that read: "Please Don't Feed the Animals." After Castro had been in power a couple of years, it was changed to: "Please Don't Take the Animals' Food." Eventually, however, even this was not enough. The sign now reads: "Please Don't Eat the Animals." [Truth is stranger than fiction: a man was recently sent to jail in Cuba for stealing a white swan from the Havana Zoo to feed to his starving family."]

A Marxist Cuban economist devised a plan that would enable the Cuban regime to provide Cubans with all the necessities of life. It seemed like it could solve all the country's problems, but it had one fatal flaw: It was not based on Marxist ideas. The plan was rejected on the grounds that it worked in practice, not theory.

A foreign journalist conducted a "man in the street" interview in Cuba. He asked the only man who would speak to him how life was in Cuba before the Revolution. The man replied that everyone lived on the edge of a clift. "And after the Revolution?" the reporter queried. "Well, we took a big step forward."

At an international medical conference, Cuban and U.S. doctors engaged in a discussion that turned into a game of upmanship, which the Cubans appeared to be winning. "In the U.S.," boasted the American doctors, "we can do open heart surgery in 5 hours." "Well, that's pretty good," the Cubans replied, "but in Cuba, we can do bypass surgery in under two hours." "Yes, but we can perform a kidney transplant in 7 hours," countered the Americans. "Not seven," boasted the Cubans, "it takes us just five hours to perform the transplant." "Well," replied the exasperated Americans, "can you beat our average time for a tonsillectomy --30 minutes?" "No," answered the Cubans, "you've got us there. We can't even come close to that. In Cuba it takes us 12 hours to take out the tonsils, sometimes more." "But why," asked the astonished Americans." "You see," replied the Cuban doctors, "in Cuba nobody wants to open his mouth so we have to take the tonsils out through the a*s."

A young boy Pepito asks his father, a government official, how society is organized under socialism. The father answers that it is organized just like their household: the father is the party; the mother is justice; the maid is the working class; Pepito himself is the people and his little brother is the future. The next day, the boy tells his father that he now understands what he meant: "Last night, daddy, the party was scr*w*ng the working class, while justice slept, the people was neglected, and the future was all covered in sh*t."

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