Apologies that Don’t Exist in Cuba

Who is going to apologize to Linares, Casanova, Munoz, Pacheco and company who couldn’t put on a uniform of the best baseball in the world due to the whims of divergent governments.   -Michel Contreras

By Jesus Arencibia  (El Toque)

Photo: Alain Gutiérrez

HAVANA TIMES – They hadn’t been given anything. Floorboard on top of floorboard, brick upon brick, Esteban and his family built that house in Montequin, Pinar del Rio. Or better yet, hurdles were placed in their way and whatever could be taken from them was taken, because they had declared that they were Jehovah Witnesses in 1959, and (as we know) in the frenzied and beautiful early years of the bearded Revolution, that was like calling yourself a criminal, social scourge, scoundrel.

I remember old Esteban (already trembling because of his Parkinsons), watching Noemi, his daughter, and Fela, his wife, collect as much as they could, hiding some things at neighbors’ homes, leaving only the worst possessions at the house behind, but not drawing too much attention either, because inspectors would come, do an inventory of everything and EVERYTHING would be seized once they left the country. They couldn’t sell the house. And if the whole family were to emigrate and join the rest of their family (who had already been in the US for years), that would mean handing over the property to the government, their hands tied behind their backs. This was back in 2006 or 2007, this isn’t a story from prehistoric times.

Then, years later, homes could be bought and sold. And everything changed. But, nobody has compensated materially or morally the many thousands of people who lost what they built with their hands. Nobody has made a public apology, that goes beyond the diluted apology using the deceiving plural of “we made a mistake” or the generic “mistakes were made”. I’m talking about a real apology: “I stuck my foot in it, I made a mistake, I censored, I banned, it was my idea, or I carried out somebody else’s idea. And I didn’t take a stand, I didn’t fulfill my duties. I didn’t use my position to prevent injustice.”

Just like in the beginning of ‘90s you could still be arrested any night for having a dollar in your pocket, then the next morning (once the economy was dollarized) you could starve if you didn’t have a few dollars to buy food.

And for a long time, you could get into real legal trouble if you tried to sell a car, which was yours after decades of great effort and dedication. Then, abracadabra, you can sell them, at exorbitant prices even, as long as you give those overseeing the transaction their corresponding cut.

And one day, you were one of Imperialism’s ideological pawns because you listened to The Beatles and then, with all of the media hype involved, a statue of John Lennon was inaugurated in the middle of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, while we all softly sang Imagine.

And for more than over a decade, intellectuals of the moral stature as Cintio Vitier or Fernando Martinez Heredia, weren’t published by national publishing houses, and then they were reintegrated into public life, with National Awards and different titles and honors. And they didn’t demand the compensation they were due, not asking for anything for themselves. However, nobody offered them anything in society, or in private encounters.

And one fine autumn, people used to shout “lesbian” or “faggot” at you and orders from above sent men to the Military Units to Aid Production (the infamous UMAPs), “so they would get over their weakness”. And the following spring, you became a homosexual partner, but you would never receive reparations for attacks against your dignity. (And behind closed doors, and out on the street too, you are still discriminated against).

And in a year or just over a year, over 70 sugar mills were destroyed, delivering a crushing blow to people living at these sugar refinery towns. And who knows whether they will be rebuilt in the future and Cuba is once again a leading exporter of sugar. And maybe (not right now, of course), someone carrying out this destruction stops and says: “I and others have screwed you over. Forgive us.”

There are so many of these stories, so many times our leaders, who we have loved and had to endure for six decades, crushed, closed things down and simply said NO. And then, smiling and proud, patting each other on the back and giving medals at the wrong time, they said: “YES, of course, why not”; as if you could wipe the slate clean and start life all over again, without even respecting our memory at least.

I’m not one of those people who obsess over the past or hold a grudge. You have to look towards the future. And build. And it’s really great that ridiculous barricades are being lifted, such as the one on Cuban baseball players who can now go and play for the MLB. However, I insist, whatever has happened, all that we have endured, all of those people who weren’t able to fulfill their dreams in the brief time we have on this Earth because of other people’s whims, blunders or meanness; that is our memory.

Maybe nobody can be 100% coherent and act the way they say they will. But, maybe we need to humbly ask for forgiveness for all of the incoherence that has affected others.

I’ll start with myself. I apologize to my students for all the times that I gave a bad class, because of mediocrity, routine, exhaustion or whatever the reason, and didn’t teach them Journalism’s best weapons. Or when I summoned them to take part in some boring or jingoistic event that I myself didn’t believe in, because I was afraid, tired or “wanted to avoid conflict”.

I apologize to my dear readers for letting a campaign or apologetic stench into some of my articles, and for when I didn’t take my signature off a piece of work when I should have, or didn’t confront someone who crossed it out either.

I apologize to my neighbors for not rebelling or inciting others to rebel when we didn’t have water for months on end in my neighborhood. If only they could forgive me, the same people who I surely won’t represent in my articles or actions with the bravery the moment calls for.

Forgive me for I have also been afraid.