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

  • July 21, 2017 at 3:59 pm

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

  • July 21, 2017 at 3:26 am

    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.

  • July 20, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    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?

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