“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Coffee with Cuban Truth Serum

vivir del Cuento con Páfilo. Suero de la Verdad

Panfilo (c) and his fellow actors on their comedy show “Vivir del cuento” (To live by one’s wits).

Old Panfilo has become the greatest reporter of modern Cuba, it isn’t by chance that the entire country comes to a standstill and sits in front of the TV every Monday. Even his censored programs pass around from hand to hand or on USBs and hard-drives.

While the official media has been holding meetings and congresses to try and come up with a formula for national journalism to portray the real Cuba, the screenwriters and actors on “Vivir del Cuento” (To live by one’s wits) do this every week, with Cuban humor.

The latest program was dedicated to double standards. Some scientists were trying a “truth serum” out on Panfilo’s neighbors and the latter began to say what they really thought, from the neighborhood businessman to the revolutionary activist.

Cafe con Suero cubanos de la Verdad,After telling us their real opinions about their local political leader’s corruption, a distressed Facundo regrets this and claims that, from now on, this will never be a trustworthy person. There’s no need for words.

The program ends with Panfilo trying the “truth serum” himself to tell us how good it would be if we were all to drink it. The program was directly attacking people’s simulation, an age-old problem in Cuban society.

In 1910, the wise Fernando Ortiz was already stating that “it’s very common among Cubans – and it has to be among Cubans – that people’s real opinions, what they truly believe in, is expressed within their circle of friends, different and even contrary to what they uphold in public.”

A century later and this trait continues to live on within our society. Often, opinions blurted out by citizens “in the right place and time” don’t correspond to their real thoughts and feelings which they manifest in their daily lives.

“Why would I go looking for trouble, if I can always do what I want at the end of the day?” a good friend of mine told me recently. And it’s true, Cubans can avoid verbal disputes with the authorities but that doesn’t mean they follow their orders.

If salaries aren’t enough to get people to the end of the month, then things are stolen from work to be sold on the black market. If you aren’t allowed to buy a house, you can do a false exchange. If you aren’t allowed to open up a bar, you can open it up and get a restaurant license instead. If there aren’t any wholesale markets, you can find a way to get import goods from Panama.

Los esclavos simularon la adoración a los dioses blancos para sobrevivir y los españoles lo sabían pero aceptaron también la simulación para evitar el conflicto. Al final llegamos al sincretismo cubano actual. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Slaves pretended to worship white people’s Gods in order to survive and the Spanish knew this but they accepted it, also pretending, so as to avoid conflict. This has led to Cuba’s syncretism today. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Like the lead character in the film Juan de los Muertos says, all Cubans need is a “tiny thread” to stick through any gap. Every Cuban does what they really want to at the end of the day, but this way of doing things leaves society without the ability to structure policies.

For example, stealing from state companies has been the basis for many Cubans’ survival. A study from 2015 says that “96% of Cuban households recorded incomes per capita that were equal to or less than 420 pesos (25 pesos = 1 USD), while declared monthly expenditures per family were around 1,955 pesos.”

The government claims that it can’t increase wages without productivity levels increasing beforehand, however, they are surely paying much more than they think. The 1,500 peso difference between what a family earns and spends shows just how theft is multiplying like rabbits.

It’s impossible to plan an economy and even the activity of a business without knowing how much in raw materials and products “disappear” every week. Productivity levels will not increase either while “wealth distribution” continues to be developed in a disorderly way.

In politics, we know in advance that any proposed law put forward by the executive in Parliament will be approved unanimously, just like it has been for decades now. Have all 600+ legislators always been on the same page?

However, this isn’t the only economic or political issue that has accompanied Cuba since colonial times, when slaves pretended to worship the white people’s Gods. It continued on in the Republic’s politicking and took firm root in socialist unanimity.

Whoever now drinks the “truth serum” that Panfilo is offering, will have many problems but at least they will be able to live in harmony with themselves, saying what they really think and acting in accordance. This is the only way they will be able to participate in forging their own destinies and, by extension, that of the entire nation.


Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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