Cuba: How it Felt to be a “Child of Worms”

by Martin Guevara

Illustration by Yasser Castellanos.

HAVANA TIMES — I remember how, under this same president and his entire government without any changes other than the merciless stopwatch put on elderly members’ lives, the children of those who had requested to leave Cuba for the United States, were treated. I can’t even imagine the post-traumatic stress that many of them have today because of that.

They were happy children, classmates, friends, who became sad and introverted overnight. Teachers used to call them by the semi-epithet “child of a worm”.

Can anybody defend this behavior today? I don’t take comfort in hearing people tell me that some things were handled badly over the last half a century, that’s just defending them 100%. The vast majority of things have been handled wrongly, and cruelly too. They weren’t mistakes like people try to disguise them to be, they were acts of cruelty, abuses of power, the same methods used in Fascism.

For a kid who studies worms in biology, calling him/her a “a child of worms” when not directly being called “a worm”, reveals the shared and collective nature of this vile deed.

Except for the differences because of the aforementioned, this is the same technique which was used in Nazi Germany and the occupied territories. The German people hated Jews and called them out, wilfully and enthusiastically helping them to be killed. In Cuba, people who today try to forget this shame helped the Communist assemblies, militia, etc., the MININT, the G2 and State Security to do their dirty work, from their positions in CDRs, the UJC and the PCC. They helped by reporting on neighbors, friends and even relatives, and worse still, they helped by turning their backs on the outcasts, those stigmatized with the simple mark of “wanting to emigrate”, being religious, or being “gay”.

Today, this all seems unreal, but that’s not the case, this was as real as night and day, and the people who did this are now in our government.

I will never forget the look in the 5th grade Jehovah witness’ eyes at the Orlando Pantoja School in Vedado, and how this boy became a walking ball of depression which increased as the days went by. He was already separated from the rest of us because he never saluted the Cuban flag, but when people found out that his family was leaving, it became too much.

His teachers, the school director, and of course his classmates, made his life a living hell. Only the tough kids dared to be his friends. Many of these would later become criminals, but I must say in their favor that on more than one occasion in our everyday lives, when I saw the sensitive and well-pressed or polite ones shit their pants in the face of wretched acts carried out against their classmates, these tough kids would shout out nobly in unison to defend those being attacked, in this case the Jehovah’s Witness. And they did the same thing when the Mariel emigres were being beaten in 1980, without worrying about the consequences.

I also remember a student at the Arturo Montori School, where we semi-boarders used to stay and eat. He cut himself really badly in a suicide attempt, because as well as his condition which was already quite obvious by then as he already looked like a girl, his parents had decided to leave Cuba. And then people made his life at school and in the neighborhood impossible. They would whistle and harass him saying that he was leaving because he was gay and that the revolution was for men.

This is why I’m particularly annoyed now that the president’s daughter, Mariela Castro, is taking control of the suffering that all of these people have experienced over so many years, trying to keep this all in the past, swept under the rug and forgotten, which she has been successful in doing up until now.

The same goes for her father Raul and uncle Fidel ingratiating themselves with great businessmen from Western Europe, Canada and Asia, and with Popes and every kind of religious leader so that the world forgets the suffering they inflicted on their parishioners.

This is why it’s very important to remember that within the struggle to return democracy to Cuba, what should be ignored from all points of view is any intolerant, authoritarian and tyrannical discourse.

If we have learned anything it’s that the only possible way forward is with tolerance, harmony, inclusion, healthy and open competition, living peacefully together along the path to progress and the personal freedom of everyone in society, in every aspect of their lives.

26 thoughts on “Cuba: How it Felt to be a “Child of Worms”

  • Exactly

  • gee, what IS the motivation? Honestly, you are making some generalized statements based on your myopic belief that communism is a great equalizer… it’s not, it’s a suppressor. People who stayed in 1959 stayed because they either were afraid to leave everything they had ever known and had or believed that they would benefit because they were the least educated and poorest in the country.

  • I agree and concur. I am the daughter of a Cuban who left the country in Janary of 1959 with only his wife, young son and what he could carry in a suit case to reboot his entire life in the US. These Rose-colored glasses when viewing Castro are simplistic and idealist at best. How would you like your life’s work, progress, possessions taken away? You know who benefits from the benevolence of Castro? The Castro familia. Only fools see good in a society without personal autonomy.

  • Mr John D guy,
    I’m gonna quote myself from a comment of mine which appears above:
    ‘I wouldn’t personally describe Cuba as ever having been a ‘socialist workers paradise”.
    So what bit of that don’t you get (God bless America, but may God please bless Africa first coz it’s in more need of a blessing and America has been blessed already – well some parts anyway).

  • Mr. P you are 100% correct I’m one of those Cubans who was born there lived there till I was 10 and No one is happy there today (except the Castro Family)
    They called me a worm because we wormed our way to freedom (God bless America) this Nick guy should pack his bags and move to his paradise Good luck Nick you will be locked up for the words you write

  • I was pleased to read your comment until you mentioned Trump. Suddenly I felt sick.

  • My point is this:
    Imperfect countries with their systems of governance commit mistakes.
    The USA’s electoral system does not avoid it making some gross mistakes (You have mentioned some).
    I do not suggest that Cuba has a preferable system to the USA.
    My point is that it has a different system.
    To my hopefully objective eyes, this system has produced some positive results and some negative.
    There are many countries with different systems. They should be allowed to have their different systems.
    Cuba has been through many gradual changes since I first went there and I hope that it gets itself on a good path.
    That path does not necessarily have to be a copy of the US system.
    It would surely be preferable for Cuba to choose its own Cuban path?

    And I would also have to say this:
    It seems that your current President made a big mistake a few days ago which was widely condemned around the world.
    As I understand it the State Judiciaries have acknowledged and, for the time being, rectified that mistake.
    I would suggest that this shows a robustness to the US system and is impressive.
    As I say, I wouldn’t wish to see Cuba try to copy the US system.
    But I would like to see a time when Cuba can emulate some of the more impressive aspects of your system.

  • Indeed.
    But does that lessen the mistakes or their effect?

  • My wife’s grandfather is in his 80s. I speak with him often and with many of his contemporaries. Times were hard before 1959 and times are hard now. To say the situation is better now is simply not accurate. Cubans who have emigrated for economic reasons did so for the political situation in Cuba. So you see, politics is the root of their motivation.

  • Moses, have you ever talked to any of the old boys in Cuba about what life was like before the revolution? I have, many times. It seems you have absolutely no concept of how much better life is now for the average Cuban on the island. And regarding the exodus out of Cuba that is now coming to a screeching halt, keep in mind that those Cubans leaving Cuba (or their state sponsored posts abroad) had been doing so solely for the easy economic gains to be had in the US made possible by your government, to then be shared with family and friends back home in Cuba. I know that you would rather have everyone believe that Cubans have been fleeing Cuba for their political freedom, but in truth, that has simply never been their primary motivation.

  • Slavery. Mustard gas. Prohibition. Jim Crow. Napalm, etc. The US, because we change governments through democratic elections, is far more capable of admiting past mistakes because we can blame them on the government of the “other guy”.

  • I must admit to not being an expert on Fidel’s mistake acknowledgement.
    But I tell you what Mr P,
    I’ll raise you. Here’s a couple:
    I recall him acknowledging as a mistake the appalling mistreatment of gay people in Cuba with reference to the forced quarantine of people who were HIV positive.
    I also recollect him acknowledging that Cuba had made economic mistakes and that in fact the economy was not working.

    Now as you’ve initiated a game of ‘name that mistake acknowledgment’, what mistakes has the USA acknowledged?

    Has there ever been an acknowledgement that US Agents used violent rape as an interrogation technique applied to female prisoners in conjunction with Operation Condor?

    Or perhaps we are on the cusp of an official acknowledgement that some of trump’s advisory team keep forgetting to put their pointy white hats on??

  • As I have very clearly stated, I find bullying to be horrendous.
    Particularly when aimed by adults in a position of responsibility, against children.
    I would have to point out that this was most certainly not practiced by all teachers in Cuba.
    I certainly wouldn’t call Martin Guevara a liar but I wonder how widespread this practice was?
    I have met several Cuban teachers, none of whom are bullies.
    I have a dear friend who is a teacher, a card carrying member of the Cuban Communist Party and who regards Fidel Castro as a father figure to her and the country.
    I may not agree with her politically, but I would have to say that she does not have a single bad bone in her body and I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine her ever bullying a child.

    Regarding the subject of warfare:
    I am a peace loving man myself. I find warfare unpleasant.
    It clings to the human condition like a disease.
    But are you suggesting that it would have been preferable for the white supremacist army of apartheid South Africa to have continued unchecked?
    This is your intimation.
    Do the you think the world would be a better place today if the white supremacists were still in power in Southern Africa?

    All previous foreign forces descending on the region had sought to implement white supremacy, yet you rage against the only force in history to have gone there to try and put a stop to that racist abomination.

  • Reread the first sentence of my comment. “…the very imperfect US” recognizes that even acknowledging past mistakes is imperfect, but owed to a free and independent press, progress is possible. In Cuba, there is no free press and very little progress.

  • Name one mistake that Fidel Castro acknowledged?

  • I disagree that Cubans are far better off today then they were before the Castros. Cuban emigration numbers support my position. Even when you consider overall population differences between Cuba of 1959 and today, far more Cubans are leaving Cuba to live elsewhere.

  • Moses, Fidel NEVER destroyed Cuba, hence, no apology needed. To the contrary, the people of Cuba today are far better off than they were before the triumph of the revolution.

  • Bullying has always been an official policy of the Castro regime, directing repudiation mobs to bully, threaten and assault those deemed enemies of the revolution.

    In Angola, Cuban troops used flame throwers, bulldozers, and planes dropping napalm to destroy villages in a 2.6-kilometre-wide area along the Angola-Namibia border. Only women and children passed through this area, the “Castro Corridor,” because government troops had shot all males ten years of age or older to prevent them from joining the UNITA. The napalm killed cattle to feed government troops and to retaliate against UNITA sympathizers. Angolans fled from their homeland; 10,000 going south to Namibia and 16,000 east to Zambia, where they lived in refugee camps.–Cuba_relations

  • You suggesting that the USA acknowledges all of it’s past mistakes?
    Is that a joke?
    If that were the case, why are so many thousands of images of people being tortured by US Agents in the 21st century kept locked away?
    Or has the USA ever acknowledged that it used torture methods which included extreme sexual violence towards female prisoners in Latin America in the second half of the 20th Century?
    Don’t reckon that’s ever been acknowledged has it?
    Now if you were to say that the USA has acknowledged some of it’s mistakes, then I would agree with you 100%.
    Cuba has also acknowledged mistakes.
    Certainly not all of them, but some of them.
    Just like your country.
    And guess what?
    Just like my country.

  • Past mistakes are acknowledged ? I must have missed that. In fact, the average American can’t even tell you what those past “mistakes” were. By the way, if my recollection is correct, red diaper babies, the children of CPUSA members, did not have such easy childhoods either. It always amuses me how , if not totally ignored, US treatment of its own leftist citizens is treated as irrelevant ancient history, while Cuba’s acts just 10 to 15 years later – 60’s and 70’s, is treated like it was last week.

  • Here’s the difference Nick. In the very imperfect US, past mistakes are acknowledged and, hopefully, never repeated. In Cuba, Fidelity NEVER apologized for destroying Cuba.

  • I was one of the 10,556 Cubans that in less that 24 hours jumped in the Peruvian’s Embassy (running away from the proletarian paradise) success that created the Mariel’s exodus, I stay in there for ten days until the cuban government gave me a Safer passage for me and my two sons, I waited at home 22 days until they told me to report ourselves in a place and from there we got bussed to El Mosquito practically a concentration camp with tents after four days waiting finally we got transferred to Mariel port where they put us among another 11 Cubans in a small boat. The rest is history. But during those 22days of wait we were exposed to Actos de Repudio from a mob organized by the Cuban government terrorizing us in our home, throwing eggs and rocks my neighbor had to go to the store for me because the ppl from the CDR would call worms and others insults. We were bullied and tortured assaulted for the only reason to want to leave the country because we were not sympathizers with the Castro government.

  • Those that supported imposition of socialism by force have a lot of blood on their hands. It is an odd justification that overthrow of a dictator and a few capitalist required the enslaving of a whole population for decades. The imposition of social engineering by the few over the many is not right. I thank my blessings for having escaped the tyrany of Cuba at a young age. America with all it’s own faults is the land of the free.

  • I know for a fact that people who left Cuba via Mariel didn’t do so because they were in favour of napalming villages (certainly none of those I have ever spoken to).
    But I think you miss my point.
    The Cold War was very polarising.
    On the one side the enemy was communism with all its ‘dirty deeds’.
    On the other side the enemy was capitalism with all its ‘dirty deeds’ (which included the invasion of Vietnam and the napalming of villages and all who dwelt within them).
    The Cold War consisted of brutality on both sides.
    And people found themselves on one side or the other.
    And those who were thought to be in favour of the ‘other side’ were often ill treated.

    By the way, I wouldn’t personally describe Cuba as ever having been a ‘socialist workers paradise’ (as you put it), any more than I would describe my own country as a ‘capitalist paradise’.

    And in case you didn’t notice from my comment, I shall repeat myself:
    The Bullying of children is always wrong.

  • Nick do you really think that the Cubans at Mariel wanted to go to the US because they supported the US government napalming villages? Would supporting the US government’s foreign policy be the only reason to leave a socialist workers paradise?

  • What you describe is horrendous.
    Bullying is horrendous.
    Napalming a whole village because there may be communist sympathisers living there is also horrendous.
    It is also very wrong to bully a child their parents are seen as sympathetic toward a power that napalms whole villages.
    Or because the child’s parents are sympathetic towards a power that would wish to brutally dominate an entire continent.
    It is wrong to bully a child whose parents have sympathies towards any form of tyranny or enemy.
    It is not the child’s fault.
    Bullying children is always wrong.
    So is napalming them.
    Very wrong.
    None of it is excusable.

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