Cuba: History, Forgetfulness, Resentment and Forgiveness

By Fernando Ravsberg

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.

Cuban history is the Baragua Protest, but also the Zanjon Pact.

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.

Advertisement for female slaves. To forget history is to drown the memories of the victims of barbarous acts like this one.

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.

History is made of men like Tony Guiteras and Fulgencio Batista.

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.”


The Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Cuban history is an important part of world history.

13 thoughts on “Cuba: History, Forgetfulness, Resentment and Forgiveness

  • I am sure you are right in saying the Platt amendment was in 1903, but I don’t see how that corrects anything I said.

  • Ken, just to correct: The US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay was in existence and was memorialized in the 1903 Platt Amendment. So it had been a legal formality for 25 years in 1928 when President Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana aboard the U.S.S. Texas.

    I suspect the US would be willing to cede the Guantanamo Naval base to Cuba if Cuba would return the $15 Billion worth of properties expropriated following the 1959 Triumph of the Revolution.

  • Ken to watch the speech live you must load to minute 41:30 where it begins.

  • For some reason i was unable to hear the speech on the link provided by Circles. I did find it on the White House website.

    I will comment briefly on Obama’s remarks.

    “One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.”
    He could have been more explicit and said that this is how the US was able to establish an American military base on Cuban soil, an injustice that continues to this day.

    “I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President. Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption.”
    He could have pointed out that the last time a sitting US president visited Cuba there was no mention of human rights for the Cuban people. (Here i am making an assumption about the visit of Calvin Coolidge. If someone knows more about this visit, I would welcome their comments.)

  • Of course Ken. All throughout the speech Obama makes reference to the past. Have you seen the speech?

  • Yes, beginning with his opening immediately following perfunctory comments after the terrorist attack in Brussels and the mandatory thank yous. And frequently referenced through the entire speech. Obama even related some of Raul Castro’s details of his complaints about what the US had done.

    You should watch / listen to his speech.

  • Can you point to any part of the speech that does acknowledge the past?

  • Thanks for posting the complete speech and again telling everyone how to find it. I do hope people actually listen to what he said.

  • No where in Obama’s 34:14 minute speech did he ever suggest that Cuba forget the past. NO WHERE, directly or implicitly. Please listen to his speech (available on YouTube) and not Fidel’s and the subsequent Cuban press’ recollection or interpretation of what he said.

    The closest thing President Obama said that could be wildly interpreted as “forgetting the past” was at 33:40 in the closing of his speech when he said “It is time for us to leave the past behind. It is time for us to look forward to the future together.”

    I am dismayed that so many articles make reference to “forgetting the past”. Fernando’s 4th paragraph here opens “To be asked to forget all of the damage done isn’t fair.” and his 6th paragraph which opens “Obama is asking Cubans to forget half a century of a strategy aimed at bringing about hunger and despair among average citizens,……” I expected better of him as he seems to have forgotten what President Obama actually said.

  • La extincion de nuestros indios tambien es hstoria,y fueron los eespanoles los asesinos,y Cuba tiene a Espana como la madre patria.

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