Flowers at the Fort

David Canela

HAVANA TIMES, March 13 — Havana’s La Cabaña fortress returned to being a fairground for pleasure over two weeks last month. I’m not attempting to examine to what extent the annual International Book Fair has become a festival of food, crafts, entertainment or…literature.

Nor am I criticizing the quality of Cuban books, which have been produced mainly under the premise of “affordability” (an extension of the “Philosophy of Poverty” as Proudhon once said).

Instead, what bothers me is the fact that fairs of such proportions are being repeated in the space provided by La Cabaña.

Along with El Morro, this castle has served as — since the time of its construction in the 18th century — one of the most sinister prisons in the history of Cuba.

The Cuban government has never made a documentary on the history of this complex, probably for fear of revealing the continuation of oppressive policies during the first two decades of the revolution. Based on the testimony of Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas, El Morro was active as a prison until 1979 – three years after he was released for “ideological deviation.”

Paradoxically, the complex consisting of the two fortresses was opened in 1991 with the name “The Historic Morro-Cabaña Military Park,” when in fact it’s not a park and nor does it have much of a history, since its original function (to defend the gates of Havana) was never effectively accomplished. Its true function — its everyday one — was as a prison, an especially political one.

Many years ago there was a scandal in Europe when there was a proposal to set up a discotheque on the grounds of a former Nazi concentration camp. Historical consciousness and protest was so strong that the idea fell flat for its being so ridiculously offensive.

Whereas here — where they have drained all the “impurities” from history, where contradictions are resolved by omission and the prowess of the leaders are exalted until infinity — it’s natural to casually profane grounds full of so much pain.

There should be a museum to the victims and a plaque with the names of all those political and cultural figures who passed through its passageways and whose souls were locked within its cells.

This is why whoever sets foot on that site should make sure to at least seek out that history and place a flower there, at the foot of its walls, for all those who were the victims of any tyranny.

That would be a gesture of respect, not only for them and our history, but for ourselves.