HAVANA TIMES — President Obama has put the question of history on Cuba’s agenda. Since his departure, those who want to forget the past, those who are willing to forgive but not forget and those who will neither forgive nor forget have been debating the issue.
People need to know their history because it is crucial to the tracing of that line that, cutting across the present, allows them to look forward towards the future. It is the only way to take the good and to avoid the errors – and the horrors – of previous generations.
The bigger the tree and lusher its foliage, the quicker it will fall if it loses its roots, and these roots are history. We’re not talking about the “courageous and resolute” heroes we heard of in those boring primary school classes, but of the men and women who, with virtues and shortcomings, helped shape the nation.
On Good Friday, Cardinal Jaime Ortega told President Obama that history is “the essence of life and must always be present,” adding that forgiveness will be necessary “because history cannot be easily forgotten. There are injuries that aren’t forgotten.”
To be asked to forget all of the damage done isn’t fair. A person who has committed a crime can aspire to be forgiven by society and even to be reinserted into it, but no serious court of justice will make their criminal record disappear.
Ultimately, it is not in the least bit surprising that there are people in this world who are solely interested in the present. The ironic thing is that, in Cuba’s case, history or forgetting is invoked depending on the political interests of the day.
Obama is asking Cubans to forget half a century of a strategy aimed at bringing about hunger and despair among average citizens, a policy that is still in effect, and Cuban revolutionaries reply that that isn’t going to happen. They offer, at best, a sort of reconciliation without forgetting.
However, some of those who remember well the history of Cuba-US conflicts think it is not worthwhile to look back at the repression of intellectuals [by the Cuban government] during the so-called “Five Grey Years” or the forced labor farms where homosexuals and the religious were sent to in the 1960s (the notorious UMAP camps).
At the opposite end, we find those who demand that every affront by the revolution be investigated and published. The funny thing is that these are the same people who defend Obama’s policy of forgetting the United States’ history of aggression against Cuba.
A young psychologist at the Felix Varela Cultural Center said that the living in truth means, among other things, leading one’s life in accordance with what one believes. This coherence also allows us to understand the world around us a bit better.
One should not apply double standards to history to conceal mistakes. In the long run, this only serves to take away credibility from the ideas one defends. On the contrary, a critical, profound and contextualized glance at the past is the best way to confront the present.
This is an inevitable process because the present is rooted in the past. How could we forget the violence against Cuba, starting with the CIA’s Mongoose Plan, when the main culprit behind the terrorist action that claimed the lives of 70 Cuban students still enjoys Washington’s protection?
How could anyone hope to forget the UMAP camps or the “Five Grey Years” when the victims still walk among us and many are renowned religious, artistic or intellectual authorities today, making great contributions to the country?
Peace processes may go as far as neglecting justice, but they cannot ignore the truth. It’s true some nations in Latin America have opted to forgive torturers or murderers, but it would be futile and immoral to ask the victims to forget their own history.
Graziella Pogolotti summarizes this expertly and poetically when she says that “as long as life continues to throb, the building of a nation is a process that does not stop. Fleeting, human existence becomes enmeshed in a long process. Individual and collective perception treads the chance events of the everyday, recovers furrows of memory and builds dreams, clinging to the persistence of certain symbolic values.”