Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

May 13, 1999, Cuba Free Press.

TO LAUGH IN CUBA MAY COST YOU DEARLY By Guillermo Alvarez R., Cuba Free Press (as translated by a volunteer).

HAVANA - Cubans have nothing to wear...but nobody runs around naked. There is no food...but nobody dies of hunger. Everybody grumbles about Fidel...but the Plaza ( of political gatherings) is always packed. That's the punch line to one of many satirical stories making the rounds of the island. The typical political joke is a combination of temperament and character...and a wide use of the sense of humor.

Fifteen days after the VII Congress of Cuban Journalists the national TV showed portions of the meetings, some apparently for special occasions. There were some devoted to jokes, repudiated by some as less than loyal, celebrated by others as refreshing. To the wonder and chagrin of the opponents...Fidel Castro weighed in with the defenders.

Unfortunately political joking has opponents on high places. The government "apparachtik" has a troop of serious "big boys" keeping a watch out so that jokes don't get out of hand, i.e., outside the limits they consider proper.

The Cuban TV recently carried news from Argentina, showing people on the streets with signs and posters of President Menem sporting a king's crown, referring to his attempt at a third re-election. As far as it is known, nobody was arrested for such pranks. All presidents and head of states have, throughout the world, been the targets of ironical critics, with or without reason.

I have a friend who in 1991 paid dearly for his love of joking. Later on, a colleague, a deserter from a sports delegation to the University Games for Central-America and the Caribbean in Honduras in 1993, published an item about the affair in a local newspaper "El Periodico," edition of February 17, 1994.

Its title: "The friend who played at Democracy." Signed by Manuel Portuondo de la Paz, part of the text said, "An old friend, born in Camaguey (Cuban province)...loved to tell jokes aimed at Castro. Guillermo was not content to tell them in a loud voice to members of the sports section of the newspaper Rebel Youth. He started writing them in correspondence with his brother who had been sent by the Cuban government to study in Germany. It was 1991. In the first batch written and sent over by my friend he made 'disrespectful' comments about Castro's announced miracle with the crops of giant bananas, other vittles...and similar foolishness which never came to pass."

Imagine the situation: A government journalist, an ideologue with that type of behavior! To have told the jokes only by voice might have been passed over. But to write them, even in a private letter to his brother, that was too much. It could not be allowed.

Everything indicates they had put all signals out for Guillermo...even the umpire knew he was "out." He certainly was "outside." After the intercepted letter incident, he was thrown out of his job at the newspaper. He didn't go to jail out of sheer luck. An "act of repudiation" sealed his fate away from the daily affairs of Cubans.

So a couple years of forced labor on a farm was the official choice of the authorities before his case would be reviewed by the 'Holy Inquisition.' The young Camagueyan was left out in the field...with no game to play. He had played at Democracy and lost. It was that simple.

His friends and colleagues asked ourselves: How could he have been so na´ve? Did he not know that correspondence is never private in Cuba?

I have not heard from Portuondo in awhile. But I do know about his friend; he is again a journalist and is published in a place where true democracy exists. The problem is...he is writing from Cuba, still with the sword of Damocles over his head.

Guillermo Alvarez R., Cuba Free Press.

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