Cuba Culture

Underground video satirizes Cuban secret police

Posted February 24, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Culture.


A 15-minute clandestine video has Cubans on the island chuckling over jabs at state security agents. But they also wonder how long it will take for the government to crack down on the well-known actors.

A video that pokes satirical fun at Cuba’s feared state security agency and hints at corruption within is making the underground rounds of the communist-ruled island, prompting shock over its boldness and chuckles over its jabs.

The few Cubans who have seen the 15-minute tape say its comical references to listening bugs and other usually sensitive issues have them wondering how long it will take for the government to crack down on the well-known actors.

‘‘People find it hilarious,’’ a government critic in Havana who has seen the flick told The Herald in a telephone interview. “It’s professionally done, with credits and all.’’

‘‘But it’s watched discreetly, just among friends and family,’’ the critic added. “It’s considered a clandestine production, shockingly critical.’‘

While it makes fun of State Security—the Interior Ministry agency that focuses on repressing the domestic opposition to Cuban leader Fidel Castro—the video does not carry an openly anti-Castro message.

Few Cubans have seen it because it is being passed around in a DVD, and access to DVD players or personal computers capable of playing DVDs is not widespread there. The video is not known to be available outside Cuba so far.

The Havana government critic said the video features three well-known Cuban artists who use their own names in the credits—Eduardo del Llano, Luis Alberto García and Nestor Jimenez. They offer no explanation of why the tape was made.

The video, first reported by the BBC, opens with a visit by two state security agents to the Havana home of a character named Nicanor O’Donell.

‘‘Good morning. My name is Rodríguez, this here is comrade Segura, and we are here to install some microphones,’’ one of the agents says. Segura is a Spanish version of “secure.’‘

A stumped O’Donell struggles to make sense of this unusual admission to eavesdropping, a state security tactic that Cubans rarely talk about openly.


‘‘Our mission is to install these microphones in your house so we can clearly hear your antigovernment comments,’’ one of the agents says.

When O’Donell tells his visitors, ‘‘You don’t even bother to hide it anymore,’’ one agent snaps back, “I don’t get these clients. Before, they would complain that we don’t show our faces!’‘

Caving in to threatening looks, O’Donell finally lets the agents into his home, offers them a shot of Cuban coffee and helps them find the best locations for installing the listening devices.

‘‘Where do you speak bad of the government, in what part of the house?’’ one of the agents asks.

‘‘Anywhere,’’ O’Donell responds. “Here. In the bedroom. In the kitchen.’‘

The dialogue is interspersed with a string of references to other facets of Cuban life seldom mentioned so publicly, including O’Donell’s routine theft of hard-to-find gasoline from his state job and a whispered offer by one of the agents to sell him an illegal satellite TV dish.

The agents tell O’Donell that he was selected because his criticisms of the system—which are never heard—are particularly “sagacious.’‘

Besides, they say, his house is relatively close to their office and they do not have a car. Foreigners living in Havana have reported a significant drop in the number of state security agents who trail them since 1990 because of the government’s shortage of gasoline, vehicles and spare parts.


The security agents also tell O’Donell that he should be pleased because even though he lives alone, the government assigned two microphones to him, while other households with up to 10 people haven’t had a single microphone installed.

Then comes time to test the device for sound.

‘‘say something subversive,’’ one of the agents says. O’Donell shouts into the listening device: “I’d love to have a parabolic antenna!’‘

Toward the end of the video, one of the agents offers to sell O’Donell the forbidden antenna, used to capture foreign satellite TV broadcasts.

‘‘Let’s keep this between you and me,’’ the agent says.

The video has struck a familiar cord, especially among dissidents because tiny microphones were discovered in the homes of at least three government opponents in Havana in December.

‘‘I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ve heard about it,’’ said Laura Pollán, who found a bug hidden in a telephone box in a dining room wall. She is the wife of jailed dissident Hector Maseda.

‘‘From what I hear, the film does a good job of capturing reality here,’’ Pollán said in a telephone interview from Havana.

‘‘I really want to see that film,’’ she said. “But, you know, behind the laughter there is a very strong message: anyone, anywhere can be tapped.’‘

Member Comments

On February 24, 2005, I-taoist wrote:

The beginning of the end for most tyrants, and their henchmen, is when they become the butt of sardonic jokes.  It is the way we two-leggeds cope with the stress of such situations.  Let’ hope this is such an example. 

On February 25, 2005, GregoryHavana wrote:

Anyone with even a basic familiarity of Cuba knows that sardonic jokes about Fidel Castro and the Cuban government have been around for decades. Moreover there have been a considerable number of critical movies, both official and onoffial, that have made their rounds of Cuba. In this context, when did the “beginning of the end” actually begin? Ah, but there have been many people like you predicting the impending end of the Cuban government. There were even some fools who reserved the Organge Bowl in Miami for the celebration back in 1990. Comments like yours remind me of something that the former Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, Wayne Smith, once said: Cuba has the same impact on U.S. foreign policy as the full moon on werewolves…..irrational howling.