Cuba and the Perversion of Language

The Cuban government continues to rely on defamation and personal attacks.

Alejandro Armengol*

Castro supporters encouraging the “scum” to leave Cuba. Taken during the Mariel boatlift events of 1980.

HAVANA TIMES — The campaign against dissidents, the peaceful opposition and civil society activists that the Cuban press has maintained for decades illustrates the ideological decadence of a dying regime.

The means employed are not novel: insult and taunting, the spreading of lies that, though based on isolated elements of truth on occasion, present us with a false picture of the situation, a shift in perspective that deforms the whole and demonizes the enemy. The difference now is that these strategies have been reduced to their crudest form.

In its infancy, the ideology of Castroism advanced the image of a better (albeit future) society. Political attacks were fundamentally aimed at various groups, but all references pointed to the past: “vestiges of the past,” “ills of the past,” “petite-bourgeois attitudes that still prevail,” “members of the old, privileged classes,” “remnants of the old society.”

The identity of the enemy was diluted in their alleged persistence within a social class. Terror was aimed at extermination and segregation. The method was not new. In similar and varied fashion, communism and fascism had resorted to the same discourse, as had colonial and slaveholding empires before, wielding different arguments.

Language was then deformed in two ways. Abstraction was used as a means of depersonalizing and distorting words. One heard talk of the “liquidation” of exploitation, serving “justice” to traitors and “taking back” the “people’s” properties.

All the while, opponents were dehumanized: they were called “worms”, “scum” and parasites in Cuba, “rabid dogs of capitalism” in China, and “vampires”, “bastards” and “lice” in the former Soviet Union.

Because of these discursive strategies, the ideological language of Castroism was deformed at birth and began to deteriorate almost from the very beginning. Paradoxically, two contradictory factors contributed to this: the failure to consolidate the ideal social model it had promised and the successful segregation of its traditional enemies.

For years, the government chose to ignore the dissidents and to continue to label them “ills of the past”, intent on eliminating all criticisms and identifying those who opposed the system with the “previous society.”

A Cuban bodega store where rationed foods are purchased.

The permanence of the new government’s power gradually eroded these arguments. The most formidable blow was felt during the crisis that culminated with the Mariel exodus in 1980, when thousands who had been children in 1959, or had been born after that year, thousands of workers who had never owned properties before the revolution, decided or were forced to leave the country.

This forced the government to resort to a less political and more vulgar form of defamation. The head-on attack on the “class enemy” was replaced with humiliation and labeling. The most oft-repeated words were “prostitutes,” “homosexuals,” and “procurers” (in their crude versions, of course).

The Mariel crisis did not, however, change the fact that these insults continued to be based on broad generalizations. The word “scum” was used to label everyone, despite the fact that, in many cases, individual differences far outweighed any similarities.

These defamatory tactics were maintained in the course of years, but their language was gradually changed. Now, there are no attacks on the exile community in general. The government prefers to speak of the “diaspora”, “émigrés”, “Cubans living abroad.” It refers to the “Miami mafia” to define and limit its attacks on a city and a sector of the Cuban community abroad.

A lack of ideological arguments has led Cuba to resort to personal attacks which are more vulgar and more limited.

This new approach stems from a weighty financial problem: the island’s economy depends, to a great extent, on the remittances sent from Miami. The government, however, also acknowledges the financial and political influence of a sector of the Cuban exile community.

It no longer speaks of the “puppets of imperialism”, but of recalcitrant “mercenaries” on the “Empire’s payroll.”

The duality the regime maintains to employ the fetishism of money as a weapon – more political than ideological – is curious.

When Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez expressed disdain over the possibility of having Cuban-Americans invest on the island during a gathering with members of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement), he did so by showing a predilection for large figures.

“I don’t know how many Cubans you know who could invest 200, 300 or 500 million, perhaps even a billion dollars, which is the investment Cuba needs,” he said.

Astronomically lower figures, however, are quoted in Cuba as part of a perfect, disparaging argument used to awaken envy and give additional impetus to those who participate in violent reprisals against alleged dissidents.

If you were born in Cuba, live abroad and have managed to amass a billion-dollar fortune, know that the doors of the island are open to you, but do not dare do anything that could make the government accuse you and discredit you (without proof) for having scrounged up a few dollars.

A CADECA money exchange house.

Individual defamation has shed the language of the class struggle to take on the contours of the pettiest envy, and the revolutionary saga and epic of the early years has degenerated into crude neighborly quarrels, vulgarity and obscenity.

A significant step in this direction was taken during the incident involving Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban child who was lost at sea following the wreck of a raft, was taken to Miami, held in custody by relatives and finally returned to Cuba. During this time, the shipwrecks Cuban balseros suffer was reduced to descriptions typical of the so-called “culture of poverty”: of abusive and inebriated men who beat their wives, family relationships based on violence, prostitution and theft.

In the end, we were left with the language of a novel that was not quite rose-colored, that was lost in a dirty grey, where intentions were more important than facts – that people left the country on makeshift rafts, as was repeated on a daily basis then -, where reality was reduced to crude, formulaic anecdotes and endless, empty-sounding spiels.

During the time of the “Elian incident”, Cuban ideology no longer aspired to be doctrine. It limited itself to being a forceful distraction.

Fidel Castro had not understood that Elian was an exceptional incident and tried to repeat a similar campaign (this time at an international level) in connection with the conviction of five Cuban agents accused of espionage in the United States. The campaign continues, unrelenting, and it is one of the legacies of the last years of Fidel’s active leadership.

The propaganda surrounding the so-called Cuban Five – who have been reduced to three in the course of time – seeks to give us a kind of sugary buzz, invoking the injustice of the case, the arbitrariness of the trial and Miami’s hostile atmosphere. It appeals to false arguments, like the one used by former spy Gerardo Hernandez, who, according to Cubadebate and an EFE cable, during a press conference in Washington held on June 4, said that the “Miami Herald fired three journalists in 2006 when it learned that they were covering the case ‘on the payroll of the United States government’”. This is a barefaced lie.

All the while, attacks on the opposition increasingly rely on an aggressive language.

These demands for righting a “wrong”, rapprochement, conciliation and debate contrasts with the hostility towards those who are merely calling for the free spread of information, changes under the current legislation and the expansion of civil society.

The Cuban government shows itself incapable of discussing ideas and proposals in a civilized manner. Personal attacks and insults continue to be part of the system’s essence – even after the class enemy has been replaced with one dressed in money.
(*) An HT translation published with permission from

15 thoughts on “Cuba and the Perversion of Language

  • Where is that part of my text that said, “The Marielitos were FORCED to leave the country”?
    I wrote: “thousands who had been children in 1959, or had been born after that year, thousands of workers who had never owned properties before the revolution, DECIDED or were forced to leave the country”.
    You wrote: “all the common criminals who were released from prison and causing a crime wave in Havana were loaded (forcibly if needed) onto the first boats to come in and leave”.
    Not so: the offenders not were released and then they could walk the streets and robbing the house, and after that then taken to Mariel. They were taken from the bars to the boats, directly and escorted by police.
    Most marielitos DECIDED to leave, others were FORCED to leave by disaffected or homosexuals and criminals were thrown to force in the boats, directly from prison.
    “That’s a major lie or misrepresentation of the facts”. Yes, but by whom?
    Anyway, thank you for your partial reading.

  • Can you please post a source for your absurd and fanciful interpretation of the events of the Mariel crisis? I have read several histories of that event, some from anti-Castro writers and some from pro-Castro writers. Not even the regime’s own statements from that time support your nonsense. You are delusional.

  • Fidel is still the “power behind the throne”. His recent protests, via Evo Morales and directly, show he wants to remain with his fingers on the buttons of power.
    Calling the US a state of “totalitarian capitalism” is indeed hypocrite as it is a lie. People that support a true totalitarian system like Castro’s Stalinist state should think twice before stating these propaganda lies.

  • Indeed, not all prisoners in Cuba were and are political. Nobody ever truly claimed that. It is a fact though that lots of dissidents are sent to jail on trumped up charges to ensure they aren’t seen as political prisoners.
    A lot of con-political prisoners are also in jail because the violated repressive rules of the regime (smuggling, illegal fishing, trading without a license, …) out of necessity and despair.People go to jail for “smuggling” a couple of bags of potatoes or a few pounds of coffee to their families. In a sense they are victims of a regime that has politicized all aspects of life.
    Lastly there are those sentenced without having committed any crimes under the law of “pre-criminal dangerousness”. Lots of them are true political prisoners as the law is frequently used to silence people.

  • According to people that were in the Mariel boat-lift those leaving were constantly harassed while waiting by students and others sent to try to divide families and stop people from leaving. It is also a fact that violent criminals were put on boats forcibly.
    The crude attempt of the regime to claim all were “anti-socials” and criminals is the real lie.

  • I was alive and politically active at the time of Mariel . I took special interest in the events surrounding the boatlift and all things leading up to it.
    I know very well that I am saying is factually correct .
    On your post: #1 DUH! OF COURSE no one in the “anti-Castro” ( a lie within a lie !) movement BELIEVED that all prisoners in Cuban prisons were political.
    They, like all opponents seemingly are forced to “embellish” their tales of horror about Cuba because the truth is usually not sufficient to stir much interest .
    #2 – After the Cubans released all the prisoners the U.S. stated that they needed time to go through the applicants or some such and left Cuba with all the prisoners running around the streets .
    #3. You use the U.S. as a model country and so I use it for comparison to Cuba and its undemocratic systems.

  • FACT (1) No one belonging to the anti-Castro movement in Miami believed that ALL prisoners in Cuba were in prison for their political beliefs.
    FACT (2) The US did not renege on its promise to accept all Cubans fleeing Castro’s oppression.
    FACT (3) Highlighting the failures of the US criminal justice system does not justify the tyranny of the Castro dictatorship.

  • No, as usual you have failed to catch my drift. Let me make it simple and direct. If you find the system of governance in the US so abhorrent and the efforts of the Castro regime so noble, why don’t you cast your lots with them? You unceasingly refer to the US government and media with the disdain I reserve for the Ku Klux Klan. The libraries you frequent, the city streets you drive, the parks you relax in are all as a result of the capitalism you criticize. If you think Cuba does it better, why not go there and see it for yourself. As Castro was thrilled to rid himself of the prostitutes, thieves, alcoholics and homosexuals during the Mariel boatlift, I believe that God-fearing, flag-waiving Americans who support the nuclear family would be happy to see you go. Now do you understand?

  • Fidel retired several years ago.
    I thought you might like to be kept abreast of recent events.
    Raul is now president and doesn’t get much input from Fidel as to how to do the job.
    This is common knowledge in most academic circles.
    I think you are accusing people who live in the USA and who are critics of totalitarian capitalism of being hypocrites for not just stopping their participation in odious capitalism and dying of starvation .
    Do I understand you correctly ?

  • How would you like a democratic society ?
    How would that democracy work in the sort of economy you envision for Cuba ?
    How would the government work, people get elected etc ?
    You are stating what you think is wrong but suggest no solutions.

  • I stand by my long researched facts.
    The Mariel boatlift was the result of a widespread campaign by opponents of the revolution to besmirch it by claiming that ALL prisoners in Cuba at that time were political prisoners and all should be released.
    This at the same time the Peruvian Embassy situation was also being used to besmirch the revolution.
    The Cubans agreed to free everyone IF the U.S. would take them .
    The U.S. agreed.
    The Cubans released all the prisoners .
    The U.S. THEN reneged on the deal .
    This left all the criminals of all sorts on the streets of Cuban cities and towns where a crime wave began.
    Fidel then opened the port of Mariel and when the boats showed up the GOC loaded all the undesirables they could onto the boats FIRST and before those boats could take their relatives.
    In this way the Cubans turned the U.S. propaganda war against the USG and handed the problem people to the U.S.
    A great many of those remained in U.S. jails/holding facilities precisely because they were found to be too dangerous to be admitted into the general U.S. society .
    You must remember that when the U.S. and the corporate media and all the crazy Miami Cubans were swearing up and down that all the prisoners in Cuba were there for political opposition to the government , the Cuban authorities told them that these were common criminals, drug dealers, pimps, robbers, murderers etc but that reality did not fit the propaganda picture the U.S. wanted presented and so they forced the issue .
    It worked out great for Cuba .
    Imagine given the opportunity to dump ALL your imprisoned criminals off on your worst enemy forever !
    Read your last sentence and understand that in the USA also gays are oppressed and killed, your own religion hates them .
    (Read Leviticus)
    In the USA mental health care is abysmal and alcoholics lay in the streets of the inner cities .
    Dissidents are silenced or have to flee like Snowden and Assange.
    Or you can look at the fate of Chelsea Manning, brutally treated in jail for blowing the whistle on imperial atrocities and further abused by many for his sexual orientation.
    If you want to deal in individual cases of regime oppression of undesirables , you should bear in mind that the U.S. has the highest percentage of imprisoned people than most if not all countries and a great number are poor young black men in for drug violations and/or harassed for being poor and black.
    Your one anecdotal case is noted and I have no reason to doubt its veracity but when you talk about Mariel, the USA got EXACTLY what they asked for .
    Further, if you and many others actually believe your own crap and think or thought that EVERY prisoner in Cuban prisons at the time of Mariel were political, then WTF are you complaining about ?
    You got all your great freedom-fighting Cubans out of prison and to the United States where they truly belong along with all the other criminals we already have running the country .
    Yes those Cubans were amateurs relatively speaking but in the USA criminality is a field in which one can still excel regardless of one’s race, politics or religion and some day that pimp, that drug dealer will become a Senator.
    Only in Amerikkka. .

  • What a great article!!!.

    This article brings me back passages of my life, I can clearly remember the communist party organizing dozen of people to throw rocks to my neighbor’ house while their family, including kids, was inside with the doors closed and terrified. They never committed a crime, were very quite and decent; their only crime was to fill a document to migrate.

    This is one of the few articles that I have read in HT that shows that the author has a sounded knowledge of Cuban society. If you know nothing about Cuba you may not understand a word and stop reading half way.

    The communist supporters are fast disappearing and if we want that things like this never happen again we need to ensure that the ideology is reduced to zero around the world

  • Antonio Delgado Fuentes is a 67 year-old Cuban tailor who lives in San Francisco. He has repaired or altered several outfits for my wife. He also happens to be gay. He was FORCED to leave Cub in the midst of the Mariel boatlift by the “authorities” who gave him a choice of leaving or face imprisonment for having a side sewing business. He was indifferent to the revolution at the time of the boatlift. He had never spoken out against the revolution nor had he actively supported it. He kept to himself and got along with most of his neighbors. Many of them brought clothing to him for repair. Nonetheless, because he was a homosexual, the regime sent its goons to his home to tell him he had to leave Cuba. John Goodrich, you do not know what the hell you are talking about. Many gays, alcoholics, dissidents and, according to the regime, other social ‘undesirables’ were given the same choice. Leave or jail.

  • Okay, I read down to the part where the author stated that the Marielitos were FORCED to leave the country.
    Given the events at the Peruvian embassy, the incessant demands from the U.S. and the U.S. ex-Cuban community to free ALL prisoners ( because all prisoners in Cuba were political prisoners according to the State Department, ex-Cuban and other moron-right websites and media people, it would be far more accurate to say that the U.S. forced the Cuban authorities to open the port of Mariel .
    The boats came to Mariel from Florida and everyone who wanted to go got on and left.
    And yes , all the common criminals who were released from prison and causing a crime wave in Havana were loaded (forcibly if needed) onto the first boats to come in and leave.
    That’s a major lie or misrepresentation of the facts that warrants not reading any further .

  • The Castros through word and deed take every opportunity to bash capitalism and the fruits of capitalist economies. Yet, with the introduction of every tepid economic reform, the Castro economy is transforming into a prima facie state capitalist economy. This hypocrisy permeates from top to bottom. While the Castros and their oligarchy amass millions of dollars through tourist and telecommunication shell companies, the petit bourgeoisie continue to amass Cuban-style wealth through legal and “on the left” businesses using practices normally associated with “savage” capitalism as its critics are quick to say. Even here at HT, the most fervent Castro sycophants are themselves fully immersed in and benefitting from capitalist economies. Alejandro writes above that the Castros have been reduced to discursive and puerile tactics. In the absence of valid criticism, childish name-calling is standard procedure. Perverting language appears to be just another casualty in the Castros hypocritical struggle to maintain control.

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