The Havana Biennial of Political Humor, at the Service of the Communist Party of Cuba

Some 46 cartoonists from 22 countries, including Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Syria, attended the biennial / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 15 June 2024 — With Milei, Netanyahu, Hitler, the CIA, Trump and the other “usual suspects,” in addition to a good number of commonplaces – swastikas, missiles, Mickey Mouse – the cartoonists who aspired to participate in the first Political Humor Biennial in Havana had their work cut out for them.

The limits of “political humor” were set this Friday by the cartoonist and cultural commissioner Arístides Hernández (Ares): the event aspires to the “plurality of speech,” as long as no one offends the leaders – historical or current – of the Revolution. “In Islamic countries it is impossible to paint a caricature against the prophet Muhammad, and in the case of Cuba there are limits to humor in relation to the historical figures of the Revolution; that type of satire does not appear in the media here nor in Spain, with the kings,” Hernández alleged.

Cartoonist Alen Lauzán, exiled in Chile and one of the most recognized Cuban graphic humorists of the moment, agrees completely with Ares. “The Islamics would never call for a Festival of Humor about Muhammad; nor in today’s Cuba could one be held satirizing Fidel Castro or the Revolution. As far as I know, we Cubans are not Muslims, nor was Fidel a prophet, nor is the revolution a religion,” he said ironically.

Many works satirize political characters such as Javier Milei, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, the usual suspects of the regime / 14ymedio

According to Lauzán, one of the pencils behind the Mazzantini* magazine – a reference for the graphic humor of Cuban exiles – “humor should not have limits, only those that each humorist creates according to their moral and political values, not those that governments and institutions impose. From there to whether it is good or bad, correct or profane, is something else. Even the worst humor has its audience.”

Hernández, for his part, was right to put tolerance for critical humor in Cuba at the level of Muslim countries such as Iran, but he was wrong to reference Spain, where artists are free to ridicule both the royal family and the Government and its opposition.

Throughout the free world, Lauzán believes, “there have been salons, biennials, humor and political satire contests, but of course, always from the interest of what the organizers of these events understand as convenient and/or politically correct.” But, unlike Cuba, one can also organize an exhibition without asking the State for permission on what topics to deal with or which humorists are allowed to participate.

Despite the restrictions of the biennial, graphic humor made by Cuban authors is booming, and Lauzán, along with group featured in Mazzantini, is one of those responsible. His magazine “of bulls [Tijuana baseball team], goats [Guadalajara soccer team] and cuckolds, of strains and crossbreedings,” and the biennial project, “more than incomparable, they are incompatible.”

“They have nothing to do with each other because they have different concepts of creation and ways of interpreting freedom, not only of expression, but also of creativity. One is governed by what the one-party Ideological Department imposes on all media, and the other by what each publisher understands must be the editorial policy of each publication,” he explains to 14ymedio.

“As far as I know, we Cubans are not Muslims, nor was Fidel a prophet, nor is the revolution a religion”

In the biennial, he concludes, they communicate “the sacred commandments of the PCC* (’Koranist’ Party of Cuba),” but Mazzantini “is governed by another concept: everything that is against the Superior Leading Force of Society and the State.”

This Saturday, only two tourists visited the Gallery on 23rd and 12th Street, one of the venues of the biennial. The international leaders that the official press describes as enemies were repeated in each vignette, but the local authorities or allies were not.

Within the strict thematic channels of the biennial, the jury could only reward works on common themes, such as television criticism, hunger and money. The declared enemies of this “diverse space”: the “ultra-right” governments, which “rewrite history” and promote “neo-fascism,” a sack in which the Argentine president and the Israeli prime minister fit.

About 46 cartoonists from 22 countries – including Venezuela, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Syria, nations with very little or no freedom of expression – attended the biennial, convened by the Ministry of Culture, whose head, Alpidio Alonso, was at the presentation this Friday. Other spaces in El Vedado, such as the Riviera cinema, project “classics against fascism” such as ’The National Shotgun’, by the Spaniard Luis García Berlanga, and ’The Great Dictator’, by Charlie Chaplin.

The Ministry of Culture aspires for Havana to become, until June 28, the “world capital of political humor.” However, it has ended up creating an inoffensive world for Cuban leaders. An ideological truce that, after the lashing by more than 40 of Mazzantini’s numbers, they undoubtedly need.

Translator’s notes:
* Mazzantini is a magazine published by The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba – Subscriptions (PDFs via email) are free.
**PCC is the Spanish initials for “Cuban Communist Party” and would also be, in Spanish, the initials for the “Cuban Koranist Party”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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