Laughing under Castro by Modesto Arocha - Read Online
Laughing under Castro
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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.
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 GPA 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.
Fidel Castro and his 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 quibbled 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. But the Cuban people did not lose their sense of humor, now steeped in pathos, but took it underground.
Twenty years ago, a 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 who would not let the laughter die in Cuba amid the endless propagandistic din.
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.

Published: Modesto Arocha on
ISBN: 9781934804032
List price: $2.99
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Humor in the midst of despair deserves more than laughter; it merits thought and admiration.

In the United States, we celebrate political and social humor as one of the many forms of free expression. In Cuba, where such expression is restricted and often punished, the Cuban people have nonetheless developed a broad repertoire of humor mocking the repressors with creative wit and resourceful genius.

Thanks to Modesto Arocha’s copious and daring work of smuggling this inspiring humor out of Cuba, we can all see that even when they cannot find a bite to eat, human nature requires us to scrounge around for a bit of laughter.

Yet this book, testimony to this struggle for laughter against a government that is eager to control the source of such happiness, is only one of many similar recordings of audacious political satire. In the tradition of Aristophanes, Maurice Joly and Charlie Chaplin, these jokes show us once again that humor is a powerful vehicle for exposing the most disgusting hypocrisies and hideous policies of our time.

The translator


*** Loco in Cuba ***

Recipe for socialism

A madman stands over a barrel of shit, steadily stirring the contents with a pole. Fidel walks up to him and asks, Hey you, what are you making?

Capitalism, Comandante; I’m making capitalism, the madman responds.

Very good, very good, Fidel says. Now, how would you make socialism?

Ah, yes. That is very easy. Just watch. He turns to his friend, who is shoveling manure a few feet away. Hey Chico, he yells, bring me two more shovelfuls of shit!

Doctors at Mazorra

Two doctors at Mazorra [Havana Psychiatric Hospital] are having a conversation. The first one says, They brought Fidel to me today. He is in very bad shape; he thinks he is God.

My case is even worse, the other doctor responds. They brought God to me and he thinks he is Fidel.

Too many requirements

A madman approaches the gates of the Palace of the Revolution and addresses the guard. Let me by, he says. I want to serve in the cabinet of the revolutionary government.

What? the guard responds. Are you crazy? Are you mentally retarded? Do you have shit for brains?

Well, I’m sorry, the madman responds, dejected. I am crazy, but I didn’t know that there were so many other requirements for the job.

New food

Traveling along the highway, Fidel sees a Cuban on all fours in a field, eating grass. He orders an advisor to investigate the situation. The following day, he calls the advisor into his office. Well? Fidel asks. What did you find?

Comandante, the man you saw was an insane individual who started grazing like a cow a few months ago.

Has this behavior caused him any medical problems? Fidel asks.

Apparently not, the advisor responds.

Well then, let’s put grass on the ration list.

The foul ball

A group of madmen were playing baseball during recess at Mazorra. Yet this was no ordinary baseball game; the men were playing without balls, bats or gloves. Fidel shows up and sees that there is only one person in the grandstand watching the game. He approaches this man and asks, Why aren’t you playing?

Comandante, the man explains. These people are insane. Just look at them—they’re playing baseball without gloves, bats or even a ball!

Ah ha, Fidel responds. So you are not crazy! Well then, I’m going to send you directly to the military committee so you can join our comrades fighting in Angola.

The madmen suddenly lurches to one side, covering an eye with his hand. Ay, Comandante, help me! I’ve been hit by a foul ball!

*** Drunks ***


A drunk is standing on a street corner, shouting, I know who is at fault for the misery we are going through.

The police apprehend him, and hit him with their nightsticks, urging him to reveal whom he thinks is at fault. Finally, the drunk obliges, saying: The imperialist Yankee is at fault.

Very good, the police captain says, and he releases him.

As the drunk is walking away, he turns around to say, But I know who you guys were thinking of…

Be like Che

A drunk walking by a school one morning hears a shout rise from the schoolyard. Be like Che! the children call out, echoing a popular slogan of the revolution.

That’s right, the drunk responds, Be like Che: asthmatic.

Prized beret

A drunk walking along the Malecon—Havana’s seaside boulevard—comes across a green beret on the ground. This must be the beret of my Comandante! he says.

When he picks up the beret, he sees a pile of dog shit underneath. And his brain, too!


State security arrested a suspicious drunk, but was unable to get any information out of him during questioning. The head agent decided to intimidate him by sending him to a fake execution, in hopes that he would squeal when facing the shooting squad. But he did not talk, even as the blanks were fired. Exasperated, the agents finally let him go.

Wow, he said as he walked away, I got saved because they don’t even have enough bullets here anymore.

The chains

A loyal communist on the street corner calls out, Fidel took the chains off the Cuban people!

A drunk man passing by responds, Yeah, along with our bracelets, watches, diamonds and rings.

Philosophical discussion

Two drunks are talking. The first drunk says, Man is the result of the evolution of the species.

That’s just a load of crap, the second drunk says; God created man… But just as the words came out of his mouth, he noticed the boots and olive green socks that the first drunk was wearing, part of the State Security uniform. He quickly continued, …With the solidarity and uninterested support of the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist world.

Whale in Havana

A giant whale swims into the waters of the Havana Bay and the police force decides to kill it. Yet before they can reach it to carry out this decision, Havana historian Eusebio Leal rushes out to intercept them.

Stop, he says. "This whale is historical, it is part of our national heritage. This was the whale that swallowed an English ship during the British invasion of Havana.

A drunk man, who has witnessed the exchange, blurts out, "Where the hell was this whale when the Granma landed?"(Granm was the ship on which Fidel Castro and fellow rebels returned to Cuba from exile at the start of the Revolution. landed?)

*** Science ***

Science experiment

A teacher in a class on Marxism asks his students: Is Marxism-Leninism science or art?

It must be art, says one student. Because if it were science, they would have tried it out with animals first.

Survival of the fittest

Did you know that Cubans didn’t evolve from monkeys, but rather from seals?

No; why do you say that?

Because even though the water is up around our necks, we just bark and applaud.

Lack of food in Cuba

The Cuban Revolution has made at least one important contribution in the realm of scientific knowledge. Before the revolution, people had to die before you could see their skeletons. Today in Cuba, however, it is possible to examine people’s skeletons long before they die.

Cuban obstetrics

One advancement of Cuban medicine is