Cuba: The Nicknames of Power

Graffiti against Miguel Díaz-Canel in the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suárez. (Twitter/@ElRuso4k)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García, Madrid, 27 October 2022 — One of the first nicknames that Díaz-Canel received before becoming the visible head of the Cuban regime was when he was the first secretary of the Communist Party in Holguín. He had tried to prevent the farmers from bringing milk into the city. His “dry law” didn’t improve the production and distribution of dairy products in the province, but it did increase the anger of the few ranchers. Some of them preferred to pour the product onto the land, rather than hand it over to the police and inspectors who cordoned off the entrances to the Cuban city of the parks. Canel’s bloodhounds were trained to sniff out all forms of milk trafficking and fiercely punished such an onanistic sin. The inquisitor would be promoted, but in Holguín he was forever baptized as Miguel “Díaz-Condom.”

Epithets existed even before Homer made them famous. Already in the Epic of Gilgamesh, in the Texts of the Pyramids or in the Biblical Genesis, we find the use of appellations that alternate with the name of the character. And although they were generally used to highlight positive qualities, in modern times their usage has been much more pejorative, especially in politics.

The flatterers of power insist on placing bombastic and heroic qualifiers on their leaders, but popular wisdom always adds a little humor to the matter. Thus, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, was called  El Caudillo [the Strongman] by his followers; others called him El Cerillita [the Short Straw] because of his short stature. Pinochet was Pinocchio, for those who endured the dictatorship in Chile, and the Dominican Leónidas Trujillo would go down in history as El Chivo [the Fraud].

Nor have the champions of the Latin American left been spared from receiving nicknames. Néstor Kirchner was called El Pingüino [the Penguin], because of his physical resemblance to the character in Batman. Hugo Chávez was El Inombrable [the Nameless]. His heir, Maduro, is well known as Maburro, due to his continuous blunders. Daniel Ortega would be baptized as El Bachi [the Stick] or Mico Mandante [Monkey (Com)mandante], while his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, is La Chamuca, a popular name that the people give to Satan.

Returning to Cuba, almost all the presidents of the Republic were popularly distinguished with some epithet. Tomás Estrada Palma earned fame as tacaño [stingy], and his enemies named him Tomasito, el cicatero [Little Tomás, the miser]. The government of José Miguel Gómez had successes and failures, but the dominant corruption led the leader to be recognized as a tiburön, a shark. The phrase: “tiburón se baño pero salpica” [the shark swims but splashes], is one of those sayings that schoolchildren remember all their lives, beyond the excessive commitment of official indoctrination to narrate the Republic in a simplistic way. Mario García Menocal was known as El Mayoral [the Overseer], Alfredo Zayas as El Chino [the Chinese man] and dictator Gerardo Machado as El asno con garras [the ass with claws]. Nor did Grau San Martín avoid the choteo [joking]. Although his acolytes called him El Mesías de la Cubanidad [the Messiah of Cubanity], others renamed him El Divino Galimatías [the Divine Nonsense].

Fulgencio Batista would be El Hombre [The Man], for many. However, the color of his skin made it impossible for him to accepted by the elites, who called him El Indio [the Indian] and El Negro [the Black man]. After the triumph of January 1, the rebels would place Manuel Urrutia in the presidency, a poor guy who didn’t count for anything and would be nicknamed Cucharita [teaspoon].

Then Fidel Castro arrived to monopolize the national record of nicknames. El Caballo [The Horse] is perhaps his most famous nickname, since that animal occupies number one in the Charada, the Cuban system for picking lottery numbers. But, almost at the end of his existence, his acolytes would insist on calling him Caguairán [a type of hardwood]. The people, however, would use other more ingenious names for him: Fifo, Barba-Truco, Coma-Andante, Comediante en Jefe, El Cenizas or, more recently: La Piedra [Fifo, Beard-Trick, Walking-Coma, Comedian in Chief, Ashes or, more recently: the Stone].

Nor did his little brother, Raúl Castro, escape the nicknames. Tropical machismo insists on calling him La China [Chinese woman], not only for being beardless in the middle of a bearded family, but also because of the countless rumors about his sexuality. Even a late convert, like troubadour Ray Fernández, alludes to this in a theme loaded with malice: “China, search for your tail… of cloud.” Surely the “player” will have to adjust his repertoire to be admitted as a court jester in the cultural activities of the regime.

Finally, we have arrived at Diaska [Polish for “what on earth!”], el ratoncito Miguel [Mickey Mouse], Miguel Mario-Neta [Puppet] the Puesto a Dedo [Handpicked] the CitroneroGuarapero major [old lemon-sugarcane juice], the Dictador del Corazón de La Machi [Dictator of the Medicine Man’s Heart] , KKKanel and DiasContados [Days are Numbered]. Although the best nickname of all, without a doubt, belongs to the authorship of rappers Al2 and Silvito El Libre: Díaz-Canel… Singao [Motherfucker].

Translated by Regina Anavy


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