Cubans’ Collective Memory

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HAVANA TIMES – Liborio, a popular name for the Cuban people, has always been quick and bright to synthesize the saddest of sorrows into a phrase or image. As such they already invented an acronym to refer to the crushing reality in Cuba today: “DPEPDPE”.

I can’t translate its essence here, because it would be a clumsy attempt, but it crosses my mind or we say it many times every day. Sometimes, to express sadness or disappointment; in others, with the overwhelming desire to leave everything behind, beginning with the island; or even, just out of pure and dangerous rage.

“What kind of crime must a 17-year-old teenager commit to be sentenced to more years in prison than the years he’s lived on this Earth? How many people do they need to kill? Rowland Castillo Castro, 17, has been taken to court in Havana, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office is asking for 23 years in prison for his participation in the July 11th protests,” journalist Mario Luis Reyes argued on Facebook.

“As far as I know, only one person died during the 11J protests, Diubis Laurencio, and the police officer that shot him in the back hasn’t been taken to trial. […] Who did Rowland kill? What harm did he do to deserve 23 years in jail? Is there any Public Prosecutor, lawyer, or just a human being with a bit of common sense, that can explain this to me?” the journalist asked.

Other voices have been raised on the digital agora – the most democratic space Cubans have right now – to cry out for the mothers who were repressed as they demanded freedom for their family members involved in politicized trials as a result of the social outbreak on July 11th.

“On Monday January 31st, after violent arrests in front of the 10 de Octubre Courthouse, where trials of the Toyo protestors took place, State Security gave me 48 hours to leave the country. They told me that if I didn’t, mothers that had been arrested and the activists accompanying them would be charged with public disorder,” art historian and activist Carolina Barrera tells us, almost on a flight to Spain.

Carolina Barrero

A recent article about politically-motivated acts of discrimination in the workplace, mentioned many personal stories cut short by this injustice. “Edel Carrero was told that he couldn’t be “trusted” to work as an I.T. engineer because he had gone to a protest. Elvisley Gonzalez was asked in an interrogation: “are you a revolutionary or not?” and then he was fired. Professor David Alejandro Martinez was told that he couldn’t teach anymore “because he had lost his status as an example, prestige and requirements for his role as a university professor.” He was one of the admins of the Archipielago platform.”

Another report digs into the misfortune of Roberto Perez Fonseca, a young man who is serving a 10-year prison sentence, and whose greatest sin (skillfully dressed up in legal names such as “contempt”, “attempt”, “instigation” and “public disorder”), is apparently having ripped up a picture of Fidel Castro in public.

DPEPDPE, Liborio mumbles.

However, this clumsy phrase is perhaps not enough to express his annoyance at seeing Granma, the Party/State/Government’s official newspaper, ask in the voice of a “sharp” journalist: “Are there really political prisoners in Cuba.”  

What reality is this newspaper observing? What picture is it trying to paint of the present? It must be the same one the Attorney-General’s Office is trying to sell us, as well as their representatives, when in few, late and incomplete statements about the criminal trials relating to the July 11th protests, they always use the word “riot” in their headings; but, in order to get an idea of the magnitude of the long prison sentences being requested and charges such as “sedition” being used, they resort to the idea that protestors “attacked the Constitutional order” and “put national stability in great danger”, as well as “our socialist State” (whatever this last phrase means).

DPEPDPE, Liborio spits out.

That’s not all of it, though.

It won’t be, because every broken family, every disappointed young person, every group of friends who has come together to unite in their rejection of lies, every Cuban who has to accept the rudeness of the diaspora community for themselves or their families; every time real civil society has been hit hard when it acts; every part of the island that the self-proclaimed “owners” of the island abuse, humiliate, trample on their dignity, is a ticking bomb that will go off for good, one day in the not so far off future.

“Everything is being stored in our memory/ A dream of life and history/ Memory awakens to hurt/ the sleeping peoples/ Doesn’t let them live/ Free like the wind,” the unmistakeable voice of Leon Gieco sings.

Meanwhile, Liborio, who knows as much about the harsh language on the streets as he does about refined poetry, hums along to the song, sure they will embody it.


*retired professor.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times


2 thoughts on “Cubans’ Collective Memory

  • Not true Dan.

    First, Patrick Matthews is a white man.

    Second, he participated in a string of robberies as a teenager. He was caught, but did not serve prison time.

    He was caught carrying out another string of robberies in his early 20s. He stole a welding machine worth $750, one the same day he took tools from a shed at another home, and the next day stole a generator worth about $800 from a home still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. (That is considerably more than $20.)

    Third, the life sentence was vacated by a judge in 2018. Here is the news coverage.

    Also to compare Cuba’s legal system which is top down from the dictator in the Council of State, to the American jury system that is independent of both the legislative and executive branches of power is grotesque.

  • This article obviously tries to portray communist Cuba as being a harsh anomaly when it comes to meting out sentences. It is not. I live in the United States. Here, according to the ACLU, we have 3,278 people serving life sentences for non- violent crime. All are poor, most are minorites. Many have violated 3 strikes laws. For example, Patrick Matthews, 25 is serving life, not for rioting or treason, but for merely stealing $20 worth of machine tools. We also don’t coddle protestors here, like environmentalists trying to stop pipe lines. So Cuba, facing a hostile Superpower cheering on these protestors, doesn’t look so harsh after all.

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