Halloween was confined to the United States or Canada for a long time. However, this is no longer the case. The traditional holiday has become a date of celebration throughout Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is an opportunity for young and old to dress up in costumes, hold themed parties and organize gatherings and contests among friends to choose the best costumes.
It is certainly a little different from the United States, where children go out looking for candy from house to house, bringing the famous trick or treat to all the doors of their neighborhoods. However, Halloween has —almost— become a tradition in Latin American countries, even in countries ruled by communist regimes, such as Cuba, where the state looks askance at any “export” of foreign American traditions and holidays.
The Castro regime has always been concerned about Halloween, in fact, for decades, the communist regime persecuted and banned the celebration. As reported by Reinaldo Emilio Cosano, in an article for CubaNet, the Castro regime fined and persecuted businesses —such as the restaurant bar La Casa Quinta, the discotheque Bim Bom and the restaurant El Cocodrilo— just because they dared to organize Halloween themed costume parties.
According to Cosano, Castroism, in its early years, back in 1959, even prohibited the use of costumes and, in the state media, the concern that foreign ideas or celebrations penetrate inside the island is a recurring theme every time Halloween approaches.
However, Castroism has not been able to beat Halloween, or rather, it has not been able to prevent the desire of Cubans to disguise, have a good time and celebrate. According to the local portal ADN Cuba, Halloween continues to gain spaces within the island and is a clear demonstration that the regime lost the war against the celebration.
“Bourgeois parties”, “penetration” and “ideological divisionism” are some of the phrases used by the government to discredit celebrations such as Christmas, rooted in Cuban culture”, reads ADN Cuba. In spite of this, the newspaper notes, “Almost all private businesses, mainly bars and restaurants, set the scene with decorations related to the date and invite customers to contests with prizes for the best disguised person or couple.”
Halloween repression in Cuba
As it happens throughout Latin America, Halloween has become particularly popular among young people and adults, rather than among children. According to ADN Cuba, this may be due to “the economic crisis”, because “it would be difficult for Cuban children to receive candy on Halloween. Or they would have to buy them overpriced, costing more than 300 pesos for a package of cookies and candies.”
Other reports noted that Cubans spontaneously jumped into Havana’s famed Paseo del Prado to celebrate Halloween. People began to arrive at 8:00 p.m., there were children dressed as superheroes, such as Spiderman, or Disney princesses like Rapunzel. When young people and adults joined the party, suddenly, the forces of order tried to stop the party and hostilely expel people from the streets, according to information from Portal 14ymedio.
“However, more young people kept arriving despite efforts to break up the group in the northern part of the Paseo. As if a counter-order had arrived, suddenly the agents stopped and began only to observe and watch the congregants,” the portal reads. “Some were dressed in civilian clothes, others in military, police officers, the canine brigade with their dogs and even the special brigade with patrol motorcycles and even a truck.”
As explained in the article, a street vendor tried to go to the Paseo de Prado to sell sweets and candies, but the police did not let him.
14ymedio picked up a casual conversation in the Paseo de Prado after the incidents with the repressive Castro forces: “I don’t know what’s wrong with them? They look at you as if you were a criminal. It bothers them even when the kids play here, this is a public place,” commented a man to a woman who was walking next to him with a girl in disguise. “What happens is that they are more afraid than they want to live. It’s not as if the children were going to cast a spell on the government,” the woman replied.
The most serious episode was that of independent Cuban journalist Héctor Luis Valdés, who was kidnapped for an entire night by the regime’s repressive apparatus while he was covering the Halloween celebration in a live show. According to information from Radio Televisión Martí, Valdés was only released in the morning.
During the broadcast, Valdés described the Halloween celebrations in Cuba as “a triumph of the youth against Castroism” recalling that the regime has always been against U.S. cultural celebrations.
The hypocrisy of police surveillance
Nepotism also made its presence felt on Halloween, while Cubans were closely watched by the police and Héctor Luis Valdés was kidnapped, Fidel Castro’s grandson, Sandro Castro, celebrated Halloween in style at his business EFE Bar. Of course, Sandro’s bar was not guarded by cops and attendees were able to dance and have a great night as seen on the venue’s Instagram stories.
Sandro, a controversial figure on social networks for his usual displays of opulence in Cuba, was criticized by several Cubans critical of Castroism who called the celebration at his bar hypocritical. However, the most surprising was the message from a follower of Castroism named Dimitri Dimis, who posted the following comment on one of EFE Bar’s publications:
“Sandro, when we have such a heroic name we respect it more than any other and we don’t get into stupid ads, a stupid party, a pure imperialist party. You don’t care, but this is very precious to so many, like me, who lived for your grandfather’s Revolution. Please respect and discretion to his glory, thank you for your understanding.”
Dmitri’s comment was picked up by some media outlets before being deleted.