Clavelito: A harbinger of Cuba’s doom

It is a matter of interpretation or opinion, but a seemingly trivial and largely forgotten episode in Cuban history appears, in retrospect, as a significant precursor to a comparable phenomenon a few years later: the generalized infatuation with and delirious embrace of Fidel Castro as the cure and solution to all of Cuba’s ills and problems. Alas, what eventually proved to be a disastrous case of mass delusion was not a fluke and did not come out of nowhere.  

“Clavelito” was the professional nickname of Miguel Alfonso Pozo (1908-1975), a guajiro of humble origins with a talent for Cuban country music and folk poetry. He made his career in various radio programs starting in the 1930s. His crowning moment and chief claim to fame came in the early 1950s, as host of a show with elements of “Dear Abby” and faith healing, albeit without overt religious content.

Listeners would write in to “Clavelito’s Mailbox” with issues or concerns, and selected letters would be read and answered on the air with Clavelito’s idiosyncratic advice. Notably, they were asked to place a glass of water on top of their radio during the broadcast, so it would be “magnetized” via radio waves with Clavelito’s healing and positive energy and could be drunk afterwards.

He did not present himself in religious or even spiritual terms, but as a “man of the people” as well as a “man of destiny” in whom the impossible became possible. The show’s jingle, sung by him, was:

Pon tu pensamiento en mí
Y harás que en este momento
Mi fuerza de pensamiento
Ejerza el bien sobre ti

Despite the hokum, the show was a smash hit throughout Cuba. There were hundreds of testimonials to presumed cures and solutions to personal problems credited to Clavelito, and letters and telegrams poured in to the radio station, reportedly three to four thousand a day. Clavelito became a national celebrity; pop songs and a soap opera were written about him, and he received extensive press coverage. Naturally, he also profited handsomely. The furor was cut short because an official complaint was filed, apparently by competing radio interests, accusing him of violating the radio broadcasting code of ethics, and his show was suspended in 1952. At its peak, it was reportedly the highest rated or most popular radio show in Cuba’s history.

Obviously, such mass success meant that a very significant number of Cubans, looking for quick or magical solutions to problems, took Clavelito at face value and fell for a contrived entertainment product with what should have been a transparently bogus gimmick–the famous glass of water. In principle, although on a different order of magnitude, essentially the same thing happened with Fidel Castro, initially taken for Cuba’s redeemer with not-so-subtle messianic overtones. This implies a gullible, simple-minded, irrational and easily manipulated people, which is not only a major embarrassment but a very dangerous weakness, one which proved catastrophic.

Maybe Cubans have finally outgrown such infantile credulity, or certainly should have, but I wouldn’t take that for granted. 

1 thought on “Clavelito: A harbinger of Cuba’s doom”

  1. It is not clear if the idea for the glass of water came from Clavelito or someone else at the radio station. It is also not clear, but certainly possible, that the idea came from santería practices.

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