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.
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.
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 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.