Dark Chapters of Cuban History Still Taboo

By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — The great Cuban novelist and journalist Lisandro Otero used to say that, while one can never be certain of what comes next under capitalism, one is oblivious as to what came before under socialism. It sounds like a joke, but, in Cuba, people know this is gospel truth.

Cuba’s history has not yet been fully written and, when someone tries to touch on any subject considered taboo, the censors lunge at them en masse, like hungry wolves chasing an easy prey that became separated from the flock.

The blog of Proyecto Arcoiris (“Rainbow Project”) was shut down for a month on Cuba’s official Reflejos (“Reflections”) blogging portal because it violated Section 6 of the User Norms. In other words, it was off-lined for demanding that the government offer a public apology for those imprisoned in the Military Units for Production Aid (UMAP).

These camps emerged in the 1960s in the form of farms labor camps, where homosexuals, bisexuals, religious practitioners and anyone who didn’t fit the revolutionary mold was sent.

Pastor Suarez recently recounted his experiences in Cuba’s UMAP to a young Cuban historian.Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

All of these people – Cardinal Jaime Ortega, reverend Raul Suarez and singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes, among many others – are deserving of an apology. What’s more, they deserve to see the history of that dark moment for the nation and their lives as individuals completed and the chapter closed.

Nietzsche once warned that “all truths that are kept silent become poisonous,” but some never appear to tire of ingesting the poison of their own silence. It is not uncommon for taboos to become boomerangs that crash right into the face of the forgetful.

This late in history, no nation is innocent of abuses against other peoples or its own citizens. Most, however, appear to understand that trying to conceal these barbarous acts is futile.

I am thinking of the Holy Inquisition, slavery, the slaughter of Indians in the Americas, religious persecution, the Holocaust, the guillotine of the Human Rights revolution, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Plan Condor and numberless other cases.

It is true unwritten histories exist in other parts of the world, and one is wary when told, for instance, that the investigation into the assassination of a certain president will not be declassified until decades after the murder.

Thanks to censorship, the blog of Proyecto Arcoiris has made its way around the globe and the history of the UMAP resurfaces.

Next to no one has made the kind of apology the Proyecto Arcoiris demands – the powerful don’t make a habit of asking forgiveness. However, history is there, warning future generations as they head down new roads towards a better world.

Those who do not know their own history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. A people who are unable to write its own history is condemned to have others write it for them. A people who do not learn from their history commonly lose their way.

And it seems Cuban history came to an end in 1959 – we’ve had nearly 60 years of very little history. Nothing is written about differences among revolutionaries, about the country’s economic mistakes, quarrels with “sister” socialist nations or Cuba’s relationship with guerrilla groups in Latin America.

The UMAP are only a small part of the nation’s history that’s kept “classified.” The Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue, however, has just addressed the issue in depth and reverend Suarez decided to speak about his experiences as a young Cuban historian.

If the punishment logic applied to the Proyecto Arcoirisis stands, I wonder if they are thinking of closing down the center or whether they’ll bar Raul Suarez from granting any more interviews. They aren’t likely to do anything, as the size of those preys is larger than the courage of the wolves.

At a time when Orwell’s 1984 and the reports of an émigré journalist are being published in Cuba, those who speak of history continue to be punished. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

At a time when Orwell’s 1984 and a compendium of émigré Uva de Aragon’s works are being published in Cuba, the incident involving Proyecto Arcoiris strikes one as an incomprehensible contradiction – contradictory signs that spread unease across the country.

To demand accountability from the president is not a show of disrespect, it is the right all Cuban citizens have and accounting to citizens is one of the duties of any representative of the people. To repress such exchange among equals leads to hypocrisy.

No one should be punished for referring to historical facts and no publication censored for telling the truth. To have a different opinion must cease to be a stigma if Cuba aspires to one day have all citizens take part in the construction of society.


10 thoughts on “Dark Chapters of Cuban History Still Taboo

  • February 23, 2016 at 4:49 pm
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    The imperfect U.S. system is preferable to a totalatarian regime like Cuba. Nothing bottom up about Cuba rule. A small group with brutal measures has imposed their will on a population that would not willingly consent to their rule.

  • February 23, 2016 at 1:42 am
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    You do not get to change the topic of this thread. The topic is the existence of dark secrets the Casteo regime wants to keep hidden. It matters nothing what label you apply to their ideology. What matters is the fact the murderers remain in power, with immunity from justice.

  • February 22, 2016 at 6:35 am
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    While no one is blameless in this incident, the Cuban government had been asking the US to stop these flights over Havana for two years saying their only way to stop them would be to shoot them down which would be tragic and cause an international incident. The Brothers to the Rescue pilots were told before they took off that the Cuban government had officially notified the US government that they were going to be shot down this time. They choose to fly over Havana anyway.

    Only when US government documents were declassified years later did we learn the actual events were far from the surprise unprovoked attack presented to the American public.

  • February 21, 2016 at 9:59 pm
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    Capitalism is antithetical to democracy.
    You can have capitalism.
    You can have democracy.
    But NOT both simultaneously
    What is what is wrong with capitalism be it free enterprise ( US) capitalism or state (Cuban) capitalism is that neither is DEMOCRATIC.
    The democratic alternative to these two totalitarian systems is a democratically-run bottom-up ,majority -rule , worker-run economy.
    That would be called a social economy or socialist if you like because it serves the needs of society.
    Capitalism , as its name implies, serves the need of capital (moneyed interests).
    Answer this please :
    Would you be in favor of a democratic economic system as described or would you prefer what the totalitarian forms the US or Cuba has ?
    Do not attempt to tell me you’d like some reformed sort of free enterprise capitalism because it cannot be reformed.

  • February 21, 2016 at 9:46 pm
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    And did the BTR flights continue after those were shot down ?
    I haven’t heard anything since about continued flights.
    It would seem that for civilians like BTR to be conducting foreign policy on their own would be a violation of US law .
    Flying into ANY country’s airspace unwanted will get you shot down in a New York minute.
    And yes, the US COULD send jets and destroy Cuba too but it appears that as murderous as the American Empire is , even it doesn’t have your bloodlust.
    Have you ever consider taking a moral position ?

  • February 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm
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    Your right. Communist totalitarian governments have no problem in keeping their word and shooting down unarmed civilian prop planes armed with nothing more dangerous than paper flyers. Any other Western government would simply have intercepted the planes and escorted them out of their airspace. Instead MIGs were sent to shoot down the planes in international airspace (according to radar intercept tracks made available to the UN). And how those Cuban military pilots celebrated the shoot down. Unfortunately they never had the opportunity to play with our F16s . Oh well

  • February 21, 2016 at 2:43 pm
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    While I agree with your comments overall, it is notable that President Clinton was directly notified by Raul Castro that the Brothers to the Rescue flights were going to be shot down if they made their flight over Havana two days in the future. Clinton attempted to stop the flights but was foiled by US bureaucracy. While the Cuban government certainly has many problems, keeping their word is not one of them.

  • February 21, 2016 at 1:12 am
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    The UMAP camps are just one of the dark secrets the Castro regime wishes to keep hidden. How about who ordered the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes? Who ordered the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat? Who ordered General Ochoa executed and what secrets about Cuba’s roll in the drug trade did he take to the grave?

    And what of the estimated 60,000 Cubans who were forcibly uprooted from their homes in the Escambrey mountains and transported to pueblo captive, or captive villages, in Pinar del Rio and elsewhere across the island?

    There are many crimes committed in the name of the Revolution which the Castro regime will never allow to be spoken of.

  • February 19, 2016 at 8:18 am
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    You are discussing a very old version of socialism that championed workers owning their own means of production. That version died when it was hijacked by what we know as the modern hard left to take control. What we have learned with the failed Soviet / Chino / Cuba model of socialism is that the central control model is a total failure. Even Cuba is running to find something that works, “socialismo with a market.” Venezuela, Argentina, Greece all recent teachers of how even less than full Soviet socialism can lead to wide spread poverty. History has exposed the lies of Lenin, Mao, Chavez and Fidel. All committed crimes against their people and introduced a shared poverty few would have willingly voted in. Capitalist states with clean government oversight and welfare programs (soft socialism) may not be perfect, but they beat the alternative. A lesson the world has learned is that production of goods and services needs to be incentivzed before any redistribution to smooth out consumption makes sense. To ignore production is to bring about an equality of shared poverty.

  • February 18, 2016 at 7:42 pm
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    Any economy or society that is called socialist but is ruled from the top down and not from the bottom by the workers: Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat is not in fact- a socialist entity
    If it is top down and run by the state it is state capitalist .
    It differs not at all in its totalitarian aspect from free enterprise ( privately owned) capitalism (FEC) but only in having the state appropriating the profits and deciding on how they will be spent instead of the private owners in FEC.
    The central point is to differentiate between totalitarian and democratic economic systems and neither form of capitalism Cuban/US is democratic.
    Socialism would be democratic were it ever to be permitted to exist by a so-far totalitarian-minded American Empire.
    It not to be forgotten that the United States has never permitted any socialist entity to exist unmolested since at least the early 20th century which speaks to the need for free enterprise capitalism to be forced upon an unwilling world .
    To not understand the above paragraph is to not be able to comprehend U.S. foreign policy.

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