Political Snobbery or Consensual Propaganda

The truly surprising thing about this modest little hostel is the strange display hanging from its balcony. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 April 2019 — As Cuba sinks into a new period of crisis, the absurdity of existing in parallel planes has been imposed as the norm in the daily lives of its inhabitants. Submerged in the desperate search for subsistence, a growing number of Cubans choose to ignore other signs of reality that reveal alarmingly the alienation that attacks us at a spiritual level from public spaces without the majority being aware of it.

This kind of social blindness prevents perceiving the flagrant rupture between the official discourse and the social practice, as well as the divorce between the real life of ordinary people and the performance of the earthly paradise offered to foreign tourists – that privileged Pleiad of occasional visitors that later leave, pleased to find so much charm in the midst of general decadence – in a Cuba of props that looks less and less like itself and its inhabitants.

In this idyllic representation made for the foreign guest, certain successful private hostels play an important role, which – contrary to the semi-deserted hotels of mixed state capital and foreign investors – usually keep their rooms full throughout the year.

In this idyllic representation made for the foreign guest, certain successful private hostels that usually keep their rooms full throughout the year play an important role

The historic center of Old Havana stands out among all the areas of tourist interest, not only for its architectural values, its old buildings, its old churches and stone palaces and its colonial squares, but also for the emergence of many small private investment spaces – lodging, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, sale of handicrafts, art galleries, among others – that began to proliferate everywhere in recent years in that compact and unique urban geography.

The interior of a hostel is a world apart that hides from prying eyes what is not within the reach of ordinary Cubans: comfort, quietude, the warm friendship of the owners, the abundance of a good breakfast, the cordiality of the employees.

Needless to say, every successful host is, or at least appears to be, “politically correct” according to the official canons: revolutionary, socialist, Fidel-fanatic and integrated into the system, which allows him to take certain rare liberties. This seems to be the case of the Colonial Casa Tali Hostel, located at 406 Lamparilla Street, a few steps from the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje and the square of the same name, in the inner area of Old Havana.

The house in question is not really a colonial building, but a typical construction of the first third of the twentieth century, although it exhibits colonial elements, with arches, columns, high ceilings, balcony with wrought iron railing on the façade, and French louvered window-doors, an architectural style quite common in any of the oldest areas of the city.

The Colonial Casa Tali Hostel is located at 406 Lamparilla Street, a few steps from the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje and the square of the same name. (14ymedio)

However, what is really surprising in this modest inn is the strange display hanging from its balcony: at one end the multicolored gay flag, at the other, the Cuban flag, and between each one of them, cloth banners written in English, one of they with a big sign that says: “Free Assange”, while the other one – which is even more enigmatic and inexplicable – sends the following message: “Lee Harvey Oswald where are you now? The world needs you more than before.”

For an American it would be unthinkable to place a petition to Lee Harvey Oswald on his facade

For any foreigner, both posters can be proof of the freedom of expression that Cubans enjoy. In fact, for an American it would be unthinkable to appeal to Lee Harvey Oswald on his facade.

But the citizens of Cuba know that, in this country, publicly and freely displaying a poster with political content, and written in Spanish constitutes in itself a very touchy problem for any artist or sign painter, and it is at least suspicious for a private entrepreneur to allow a similar audacity.

Furthermore, asking for freedom for the famous Australian hacker is to go one step ahead of what the official press monopoly has ventured to express; but to openly invoke the memory of Lee Harvey Oswald, presumed guilty of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, the then U.S. President, as subject of “the world needs more than before,” is not only an act of inadmissible insolence, but also a gross incitement to violence that contradicts, head-on, the overhyped will for peace speech of the Cuban Government.

Isn’t the owner of this business clearly suggesting that a new assassin is needed to shoot dead the U.S. president? What scruples do the Cuban authorities employ to condemn the alleged assassination attempts of their ally, the usurper Nicolás Maduro, and at the same time allow the display of this type of message? Are there good murders and bad murders?

Perhaps we will never know exactly if this is a case of naive political snobbery motivated by the excess enthusiasm of the owner of the hostel or a not very subtle propaganda the authorities have consented to. The truth is that most of the Havana inhabitants who move about under that balcony may not pay too much attention to the banners, or do not understand the message, written in English.

It is also more than likely that many of them don’t know who Lee Harvey Oswald was, or that they have only heard in passing in the official media the name of the arrogant hacker who has published so many secrets affecting the American Government.

This may be the case, so the hostel propaganda is tolerated or allowed precisely because both messages contain a deep anti-American sentiment

But that may be the case, and the hostel’s propaganda is tolerated or allowed precisely because both messages contain deep anti-American sentiments, the quintessence of the Castro regime.

It would be very different if another entrepreneur were encouraged to place on his balcony, even if written in Mandarin Chinese, a petition to free the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, arbitrarily kidnapped by the political police to prevent him from carrying out a performance within the framework of the Havana Bienial, where the American flag was used as motive.

We would also have to see what would happen to private hostel operators or any anonymous citizens if they placed posters in their balconies demanding freedom for Dr. Eduardo Cardet or for all the Cuban political prisoners. These banners would, without a doubt, unleash all the repression demons. And if someone questioned it, here’s the challenge: try to do it and you’ll see who and how establishes the limits to freedom of expression in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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