The Learned Illiterates of the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 January 2017 — – I have often heard
or read about the supposed Cuban "culture and education," a fabulous
academic record based on official Cuban statistics and, of course, the
Cuban Revolution and its (literally) ashen leader.
A few weeks ago, during the prolonged funerals of the Deceased in Chief,
while walking through some streets of Centro Habana in the company of a
foreign colleague – one of those who, either because of her gullibility
or her sympathy, has swallowed the story of "the most educated island in
the world" — I had occasion to show her several categorical examples of
the very renown solid and expansive Cuban culture.
Beyond the filthy and cracked streets, the mounds of rubble and the
containers of overflowing debris, which by themselves speak of the
peculiar conception of the hygiene and health culture in the Cuban
capital, posters everywhere overflowed, plagued by spelling mistakes:
"we have striped coconut" [rayado means striped, rallado, grated] read a
sign at a market on Sites street; "Mixed coffee" [misspelled mesclado,
should be mezclado] offered another ad on a menu board in a private
coffee shop; "forbidden to throw papers on the floor" [proibido instead
of prohibido] on a sign a bit further on.
The menus at restaurants, both privately and state-owned, also abound in
terrorist attacks on the Spanish language that would have the
illustrious Miguel de Cervantes shaking in his grave. "Fried Garbansos",
[garbanzos] "smoked tenderloin" [aumado for ahumado], "breaded fillet"
[enpanisado for empanizado], "paella valensiana" [instead of valenciana]
and other such similarities have become so common that no one seems to
The "Weekly Packet," by far the most popular cultural entertainment
product and the one most available among the people, is ailing from the
same malady. There, among the video title archives, one can find
misspelled jewels of colossal stature, such as "Parasitos acesinos,"
[for Parásitos Asesinos], "Guerreros del Pasifico," [instead of the
correct Guerreros del Pacífico], "Humbrales al Mas Alla" [correct
spelling: Umbrales al Más Allá] and many more.
There are those who consider the correct use of language as superfluous,
especially in a country where daily survival consumes most of one's time
and energy, and where there are not many options for recreation within
the reach of the population's purses. Cubans read less and less every
day, which contributes to a significant drop in vocabulary and the
deterioration of spelling. In any case, say many, who cares if the word
garbanzo is written with an "s" or a "z", when the important thing is
having the money to be able to eat them? What is more essential, that a
video file has a correctly spelled title, or that the video itself is
It would be necessary to argue against this vulgar logic that language
constitutes a capital element of the culture of a nation or of its
population, not only as a vehicle of social communication for the
transmission and exchange of feelings, experiences and ideas, but as an
identifying trait of those people. Furthermore, language is even related
to national independence and sovereignty, so, when language is
neglected, culture is impoverished; hence, truly cultured people demand
the correct use of their language.
The systematic destruction of language in Cuba is manifested both
verbally and in writing, and among individuals at all educational
levels, including not a few language professionals. Thus, it has become
commonplace to find essays of journalistic analysis where unusual
nonsense appears in common words and is frequently used in the media,
such as "distención" for distensión or "suspención" instead of suspensión.
The relationship could be extensive, but these two cases are enough to
illustrate how deeply the Spanish language culture has eroded among us,
to the point that it also shows up among sectors that, at least in
theory, are made up of people versed in the correct use of language.
What is worse is that a pattern of the systematic destruction of
language stems from the national education system itself, since spelling
mastery has been eliminated from the curriculum of skills to be acquired
by students from the elementary levels of education. In fact, the very
posters and murals of numerous state institutions and official
organizations exhibit, without the least modesty, the greatest errors
imaginable, both in syntax and in spelling.
This is the case of an official notice on the door of a state-owned
office in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo – on calle Peñalver, between
Subirana and Árbol Seco — whose image is reproduced in this article. On
a poster written by hand on wrinkled paper, in atrocious penmanship, the
neighbors were summoned to resort to that sort of mournful collective
spell, the so-called "Ratification of the Revolution Concept," which all
Cubans were asked to sign an oath to, after the death of Fidel. The
Of course, it is understood that the notice contained information about
times and places where the revolutionary mourners should come to shield
with their rubrics the "concept" of the spectral utopia (so-called
"revolution") that died decades before its maker finally met his. Which
may be "politically correct", but the poster is linguistically atrocious
without a doubt.
Paradoxically, one of the locations mentioned in the notice, the Carlos
III Library (incidentally, the first library founded in Cuba, dating as
far back as the 1700's), is — more or less — the official headquarters
of The Cuban Academy of the Language, whose functions, far from ensuring
its knowledge and protection, are reduced to the eminently
bureaucratic-symbolic and, above all, the reception of monetary and
other benefits sent from the central headquarters of that international
institution, in Spain th Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.
The truth is that people in this country increasingly speak and write
worse, given the absolute official indifference of institutions
supposedly responsible for watching over the language. What really
matters to the authorities is that they remain faithful to the ideology
of the Power, the rest is nonsense.
Meanwhile, the lack of freedoms impoverishes thinking, and along with
it, language, its material casing and an essential part of cultural
identity, is also ruined. Although the official media, the international
organizations and many bargain–basement pimps insist on parroting that
Cubans are one of the most educated peoples on the Planet.
Translated by Norma Whiting
Source: The Learned Illiterates of the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam
Celaya – Translating Cuba -