Unresolved Echoes in Cuban History

By Maykel Paneque

Photo: Alejandro Arce

HAVANA TIMES — My next-door neighbor was in a hurry this time. He asked me from afar whether I had heard about some of the Cuban Parliament’s ordinary sessions and I answered that I had.

An intervention which expressed the pressing need to update Cuban History had particularly caught my attention. I don’t know if this means they want to rewrite History, that would be them dreaming too much or sinning of being naive, which is almost the same thing. Even so, it’s worth remembering some historic events which should be taken into account for this future (by pressing you could say it will be immediate) edition of Cuban history.

It’s no surprise that state-controlled media have been recently insisting that the 1961“Words to Intellectuals” speech by Fidel be revisited today and to update the “unfortunate de-contextualization” of the famous phrase “Within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing.”

The problem is that it isn’t hard to highlight this dogmatic phrase if you bear in mind the fact that its echo has reached the present and is a persistent murmur. And this murmur insists on us being part of a chorus and an ideology that urges us to be blind, to repeat the Revolution’s successes in chorus and to not see the mistakes that it has committed, and still commits, in the name of I don’t know what.

Not going into further detail, on July 5th, Granma newspaper published an article written by Elier Ramirez Canedo with the heading “Going back to Fidel’s Words to Intellectuals.” The journalist emphasises the different times that Words… has been manipulated or read in a fragmented manner, without taking account the fact that it was “the beginning of what would be a permanent and open dialogue between the Revolution’s leader and Cuban artists and writers.” Granma readers used to reading between the lines know that “dialogue” really means “monologue” a lot of the time and you can’t blame them for their suspicion.

Ramirez Canedo talks about how “in the ‘70s, there were distorsions and mistakes, nobody can deny that” and that “then a lot of those practices were corrected and the path drawn out in this important intervention was recovered.”

Photo: Ali Assef

Please let me clarify. We must remind Canedo that these “distorsions” began before, in 1968, with the publication of the books Fuera del Juego by Heberto Padilla, and Los siete contra Tebas by Anton Arrufat, just to give you two famous examples. And we can never, never forget the greatest “distorsion” of Cuban socialism: the creation of the UMAPs (Military Units to Aid Production), our beloved creole gulag, in the words of Norberto Fuentes, whose doors opened in 1965. Is Ramirez Canedo hiding information from readers or does he really not know that these atrocities took place before 1970?

Let me clarify again. When you read his article, you can see how Canedo, curiously enough, analyzes the context in which Words to Intellectuals came to life properly, but he refuses to give context to the Revolution’s mistakes and what’s more: mention them.

Is that because if he were to contextualize these mistakes he would have to use Words… as a starting point? If we have to go back to Words…, (that is to say, set out the history for “the new batches of young people who don’t know the importance” of this historic document, according to his words) we have to go back to everything, that is to say, everything that this resulted in: subpoenas, paranoia, persecution, standardization, concentration, artistic paralysis, ostracism, mute intellectuals, a long list of unsuspected etc.

As Ramirez Canedo refuses to put these “mistakes” which are the result of this historic document onto paper, I am going to only mention two cases. Cesar Lopez and Anton Arrufat (rehabilitated later, it’s true, and both won the National Literature Prize) who didn’t see any of their books published from 1968 until 1983 (Lopez with the poetry book Quiebra de la perfeccion (A break in perfection) and 1984 (Arrufat with his novel La caja esta cerrada (The box is closed). Read those titles properly, they are very revealing. But, as we know, tragedies come in pairs. Both of them, in the far off year of 1968, were removed from their jobs and sent to work at a library (Arrufat) and to translate technical books in a gloomy office (Lopez).

This cruelty (sometimes reminds us of Stalin’s purges, it’s inevitable) went further than this and their works were discontinued from libraries, they were condemned to live in anonymity and silence (civil death, as playwright Virgilio Pinera called it, who knew very well what he was talking about). But, it’s never too much to ensure silence, subjugation and humiliation. Both of them were banned from receiving personal visits and they weren’t allowed to make phone calls at their workplaces. The only thing they had a right to was to be watched over while they worked. And after work too, of course.

Photo: Adar Hay

These intellectuals were so contagious in the late ‘60s and the years that came after, that people who used to call themselves their friends, crossed the street when they saw them coming from afar and turned their heads the other way. Lopez called this nervous tic “stiff neck”.

We have to really understand this gesture at that time. If somebody was seen having a conversation with them, a similar misfortune could fall on their heads at any time. It was a question of what people saw or thought they saw. We are talking about two writers who, to put it as Arrufat did, were serving a mysterious sentence. They were never told what their crime was or how many years they would have to serve, nor when they would be able to freely publish, and leave the country, almost fifteen years later.

So, Ramirez Canedo, if you belong to the committee of those who are going to rewrite Cuban History, don’t forget to mention mistakes, call them by their name, because they have names, such as the Padilla Case, Standardization, the 1st Culture and Education Congress and a long list of etc.

Don’t forget those who were forcefully made mute, because they haven’t lost their voices, they never did lose them. When you least expect it – you and the others – they, these people who were violently silenced, will raise their voices and remind people about what you and so many others are silencing, or are obliged to silence, to try (just try) to keep the image of a Revolution full of historic cracks intact, which refuses to show them as its most intimate wrongs.

11 thoughts on “Unresolved Echoes in Cuban History

  • UMAPs were not part of the revolution CErmle. They were introduced in pursuit of communist thought.

  • Perhaps you didn’t read my comment very thoroughly:
    ‘Persecution of LGBT community and of people because of their religious beliefs was not invented by nor is it restricted to Post Revolution Cuba.
    For example, in the present day the president of one of Cuba’s neighboring countries is trying to implement a ban on people from entering the country based on their adherence to a specific religious faith. This would be unthinkable in modern day Cuba.’
    However, to try to put the entirety of all your comments into some kind of relevant context would result in my own comments being pages and pages long.
    I’m sure this would not go down well with Mr C Robinson.
    I note that you do not refer to being picked up on your latest historical inaccuracy.

  • I note Nick that you do not comment about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Catholic and Protestant priests, the intellectuals and farmers who were imprisoned and maltreated in the UMAPs. Was that just an error on your part? If you had cared to read the article before rushing as usual to criticize, you would have observed that the author specifically referred to the UMAPs. He referred to them as “the greatest distorsion (sic) of Cuban socialism”.
    Your somewhat limited comments are solely related to the LGBT victims, is that a particular interest, or do the others not matter?

  • Just to clarify the comment I have just posted. I note that you refer to UMAPS, intellectuals and Norberto Fuentes who are all mentioned in the article.
    But the article is really about intellectual expression in Post Revolution Cuba within the context of Fidel Castro’s famous quote ‘Within The Revolution Everything, Outside The Revolution Nothing’.
    You don’t seem to really refer to this main point of the article in your comment.

  • I did indeed read the article but wonder whether or not you did.
    Your comment, other the single word ‘intellectuals’ make no reference to the article.
    As I often do, I mentioned that your comment lacks context.
    You mention the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba. As you do this in reference to UMAPS, I presume you are referring to the 1960s?
    There was repression against what we know call the LGBT community throughout much of the world in that era. As you know I am from the UK. Homosexual acts were punishable by jai in the UK up until partial de-criminalization in 1967.
    Many religious groups were in the vanguard of this persecution well beyond the 1960s in countries such as the USA. Conversion Therapy was encouraged and used there which apparently involved various techniques such as lobotomy and application of electricity to genitals.
    Persecution of LGBT community and of people because of their religious beliefs was not invented by nor is it restricted to Post Revolution Cuba.

    For example, in the present day the president of one of Cuba’s neighboring countries is trying to implement a ban on people from entering the country based on their adherence to a specific religious faith. This would be unthinkable in modern day Cuba.

    Regarding Historical Inaccuracy:
    You quote Norberto Fuentes. He is an intellectual/Academic/Journalist and was part of Fidel Castro’s inner circle until he fell from grace in the late 1980s. He spent the first 30 years post Revolution condoning all Cuban policies. Upon falling from grace he fled Cuba into the arms of folks in Miami and spent the following 30 years criticizing all he had previously condoned.
    As far as I’m concerned that’s entirely his prerogative. But one thing is for sure, he was never a Cuban Intelligence Agent. It’s no big deal. But it is a historical inaccuracy.
    He was one of those intellectual acolytes that Fidel, as a man of reportedly vast intellect, liked to have around him with.
    Norberto’s life story and the fact that he was never an Intelligence Agent do cast a certain doubt on his estimated figures.
    It’s no big deal. But it is a historical inaccuracy.

    I would personally condemn repression and persecution on all levels. Including that from half a century ago which you are referring to.

  • How many died in the American revolution? Unfortunately revolutions are dirty business, and somewhat horrific.

    I hope you are not so blinded that you can’t “see” that many counter-revolutionaries and even CIA agents were involved in opposition to the People’s Government. So “former” agents need to be properly vetted before their information is trusted!

  • It is evident that you didn’t even bother to read the article Nick which specifically mentions Fidel Castro. Without Fidel and Raul Castro the UMAPs would not have existed. You say that my contribution contained “historical inaccuracies”. Do show them.

  • Not 100% sure why my name is mentioned in your contribution.
    I am presuming it relates to a recent comment of mine. I sincerely hope that you are not suggesting that I would condone the described treatment of the LGBT community or followers of the mentioned religions.
    Another contributor here suggested you may wish to move on and ‘get with the program’.
    To no great surprise, it seems that you decline this invitation to take a step forward in life and you choose to remain stuck in the past.
    This latest contribution bears all the hallmarks of a ‘classic’ Mr MacD comment in that it is entirely devoid of any context, has historical inaccuracies and finishes with the usual stern rebuke of Fidel/Raul Castro.
    As I have previously commented, you seem to have a fixation with these people.

  • How do you CErmle describe Fidel Castro and a former Cuban inteligence agent as “counter revolutionary”?
    Obviously you cannot accept the reality of the Castro regime, its policies and some horrific consequences.
    I did not mention Trump and he is an irrelevance in this discussion.
    Do the “beneficiaries” whom you describe include the 35,000 who were imprisoned in the UMAP camps and those who were tortured or died?

  • This is not person, but in the words of Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.” The information you provide, as usual, is tilted against the People’s Revolution, and is merely the opinion of a counter revolutionary, not based in fact. Even Trump is not that off kilter with his even changing opinions. The gains of the revolution are many, and the beneficiaries are the people of Cuba. Most of the world stands with the Cuban people and their revolution.

  • So as Nick may now observe, Fidel Castro although dead, remains a major factor in Cuba.
    To quote Fidel in support of my own view:

    “I don’t agree with communism. We are democracy. We are against all kinds of Dictators. That is why we oppose communism.”
    April 25, 1959

    In discussion of UMAPs it is important to note that their camps not only incuded homosexuals but also
    Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholic and Protestant priests, intellectuals, farmers who refused “collectivization”, and anyone else considered “anti-social” or “counter-revolutionary”.
    Most people are aware of Raul Castro’s daughters intervention upon behalf of homosexuals, but what about the others? Villa Marista continues its “work” until this day. Who does not confess having been forced through its doors?
    Norbeto Fuentes a former Cuban Intelligence agent, estimated that of approximately 35,000 internees,
    507 ended up in psychiatric wards, 72 died from torture, and 108 committed suicide. The Cuban government maintained that the UMAPs were not labour camps, but part of military service – and thus the direct responsibility of the Head of the Military, Raul Castro Ruz.
    In an interview with La Journada in 2010, even the former Dictator Fidel Castro admitted in response to a question about UMAP ‘camps’ that:
    “Yes, there were moments of great injustice, great injustice.”
    Such comment does not absolve either Fidel or Raul Castro for that “great injustice” which included so many deaths and torture.

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