Cubans Defined by Abbreviations

Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — Our grammatical rules are aided by a few shortcuts, both in linguistics as well as in writing. One good example of this is the use of abbreviations. Those in spelling and speech are employed as work-saving mechanisms to economize on characters.

In the early years of the Cuban Revolution — with the creation of so many offices, departments, organizations and ministries to implement the strict and bureaucratic control over individuals — this method was exploited without end.

Since then, we Cubans have been grouped into these various abbreviations:

CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution)
FMC (Federation of Cuban Women)
UPC (Young Pioneers of Cuba)
UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba)
ESBU (Urban Basic Secondary Schools)
IPU (Pre-University High School)
ENA (National School of Art)
ISA (Superior Institute of Arte)
MINCULT (Ministry of Culture)
MINSAP (Ministry of Public Health)
AHS (Hermanos Saiz Association)

Then too, there are infamous abbreviations and euphemisms, such as UMAP (“Military Units to Aid Production”), which in reality was the labor camp system that existed in Cuba between 1965 and 1968 to isolate religious believers, gays and dissenters of military-age.

Suddenly everything became limited to nomenclature. But what was curious was that these didn’t remain restricted to naming institutions, boards or associations. In addition, abbreviations began to emerge as words for specific offices and divisions, such as those within the Department of State Security and the Interior Ministry.

For example we have PIO, an onomatopoeia reminiscent of the sound made by chicks or the name of a Pope. Nevertheless, here it stands for something else.

P.I.O.’s (Personnel of Operational Interest) are people who are constantly monitored. They have their phones tapped regularly by the authorities, who listen to their conversations and discover their activities and contacts – who? how? when? where?

Grouped under this acronym are dissidents or whatever person who is merely suspected of having close links with dissidents, bloggers or any non-governmental activist groups on file.

This information was communicated to me by a friend. He would run into a former classmate almost every day at the same time on the same street when he was coming home from work. One day, out of curiosity he asked the guy if he was romantically pursuing a certain girl in the neighborhood or something.

His former classmate responded that he wasn’t, and explained that he was following a “PIO,” and then he elaborated on the meaning of that abbreviation.

So throughout our lives we’ve been UPCers, CDRers, FMCers and now — perhaps without knowing it, and only for having the courage to defend our opinions, and as a result of the government’s paranoia — we might find our name on some computer list or filed away in a cabinet somewhere with yet another acronym to define us.