Friday, February 20, 2015

Jose Varela, the Cuban Charlie Hebdo

Jose Varela, the Cuban Charlie Hebdo / Ivan Garcia
Posted on February 19, 2015

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 8 February 2015 — No one wants to know him except
the readers of his blogs. Jose Varela is out there on his own. He is the
type of humorist that public figures from both sides of the Florida
Straits want to keep at a distance, the farther the better.

He is an outlaw squared. The Cuban regime has tried to co-opt his posts
and cartoons when they ridicule dissidents. But when Varela trains his
canons on the Palace of the Revolution, the curtain of censorship comes

Word has it he lives on a farm outside of Miami and that in 2006 — I do
not know why — he broke into the offices of El Nuevo Herald, where he
worked as a cartoonist, with a toy machine gun.

It was like a movie. News of the event made it all the way to Havana.
"Pepe Varela got all hot and bothered. After a dirty trick by the
Herald's editors, he held the paper hostage. The riot police had to
intervene. I love his blog. It's irreverent and quite funny. On top of
that, he writes well. That's a lot to ask these days," says a
neighborhood friend who lives in Hialeah.

The first time I heard about Varela was in 2009. I had a blog on a
website run by Yoani Sanchez called Voces Cubanas (Cuban Voices). One
night someone mentioned that Varela had telephoned Sanchez asking if he
could interview her or just meet her.

She turned him down. He was known to take pot shots at her in his posts
(and still does). Some said he was with State Security, the perfect
pretext in both Cuba and Miami for dismissing free thinkers and guys who
are out there in left field.

I started reading his posts out of professional curiosity. They are
written in the style typical of emails, without capital letters or
proper punctuation. They are well-paced and entertaining, and anyone
might end up being the target of his biting sarcasm.

For some time now a Google banner has warned visitors to his site that
they are entering "enemy territory," an affront to America's vaunted
freedom of speech.*

Neither the Inter American Press Association nor Reporters Without
Borders nor any of the other high priests of press freedom has condemned
this act of censorship by the U.S. search engine.

Varela could make a killing if he invoked the Fifth Amendment. Like it
or not, he is an American citizen who pays his taxes.

It is quite understandable that a blog like his would be banned in Cuba.
The country's military rulers don't have much of a sense of humor.

Political satire on the island is banned. In fact, the first press
outlet to be banned — it happened in 1960 — was a weekly humor
magazine: Zig Zag.

This reached an extreme in the 1980s when a cartoonist from the
newspaper Granma was fired for showing a skull with a pirate's hat in
the middle of a photo of Fidel Castro. When the page was held up to the
light, the overlay became visible.

It was probably a fatal coincidence that cost this man his job and
several hours of interrogation by scowling counterintelligence officials.

In Cuba officials rarely smile, not even for the camera, but they are
very adept at discerning insults or jokes considered

Being a humorist in Cuba is an act of masochism. You have to craft jokes
with double meanings if you want to escape the party's guillotine.

The New Man that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro tried to create was a
robot who killed yankees, planted bananas and worked as a volunteer
without pay. Dancing to guaguanco, being unfaithful, reading novels and
Corin Tellado and following major league baseball were petit bourgeois

For a Cuban dissident to be considered a democrat, he presumably must
defend freedom of expression and accept figures like Varela.

After the attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the government
and the opposition in Cuba denounced the savage murder of twelve people,
including several of the publication's cartoonists.

It was an empty gesture because neither the regime nor the dissidents
tolerate criticism or jokes at their expense.

There is a Cuban Charlie Hebdo. His name is Jose Varela. He laughs at
everyone. He lives on the other side of the pond and his weapon is his pen.

Translator's note: In the U.S. a visit to the cartoonist's blog site
begins with a content warning that states, "Some readers of this blog
have contacted Google because they believe this blog's content is
objectionable. In general, Google does not review nor do we endorse the
content of this or any blog." To enter the site, readers must then click
a button that reads, "I understand and I wish to continue."

Source: Jose Varela, the Cuban Charlie Hebdo / Ivan Garcia | Translating
Cuba -

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