Witch Hunting Revisited in Cuba

Dariela Aquique

Pedro Pablo Oliva. Photo: pedropablooliva.com

Like in the Middle Ages, witch hunts are the search for sorcerers or evidence of black magic, all of which lead to the accusation of people who are sometimes tried and always condemned.  Currently in Cuba we’re experiencing a remake of this unfortunate phenomenon of past ages.

According to experts, “Witch hunts still occur in the present day and are usually classified within what is called “moral panic.”  In general terms, these end up denoting the persecution of a perceived enemy (usually a group of social non-conformists) in an extremely biased manner and independently of their real innocence or guilt…”

In the face of the credibility crisis that confronts our political system, and with the perception that over it looms the threat of destabilization, some persist in badgering their fanatics to immediately react to any accusation of witchcraft = dissidence with superstitious fears and savagery to punish the presumed practitioners.

An example of this is the unfortunate occurrence experienced by one of our most prominent figures in the visual arts: the painter, national arts award-winner and teacher Pedro Pablo Oliva.  He has just published an excellent essay on the web site El Diario de Cuba, where he clearly describes what happened and expresses his firm and commendable position of being no more than another Cuban with the right to free expression.

The artist, who was also a member of the Provincial Legislative Assembly of Popular Power (what made him part of the politocracy of the island), has been expelled from those ranks accused of dissidence and high treason for the simple act of having agreed to an interview with Edumundo Garcia, on his program “La noche se mueve” and a letter published in the blog Generation Y, the site of Yoani Sanchez, the blogger classified by the inquisitors as the most infamous witch=dissident in the country.

Pedro Pablo Oliva and one of his works.

He was also questioned about his friendship with people and institutions satanized by government leadership.  His arts workshop in Pinar del Rio was closed and a chain of events have begun that are condemning the famous creator to social isolation and discredit.

The mechanism functions like it did in the Inquisition, but here its principal target is not the practitioners of witchcraft, but heretics.  For them, witchcraft didn’t initially turn out to be as great a danger as the other medieval heresies.

Right now, to express ideas with courage and conviction or to raise criticism of the methods of the leadership of Cuban society doesn’t deliberately imply a crime, but I’m sure work is being done to somehow transform these into that.  It’s such that witches shouldn’t be pursued actively, but only under accusation.

This can also be done under the accusation of a comrade, which was how Oliva was subjected to scrutiny.   Years ago we had a period of witch hunts in Cuba where one could be singled out by the accusing finger if they didn’t sympathize with the government or if they held another incriminating opinion.

Formerly, investigations based on suspicion, rumors or accusations were often enough to start the judicial machinery that led to getting false confessions through torment.  I remember the unfortunate case of Herberto Padilla 40 years ago.  Under psychological pressure he declared himself guilty of being a heretic.  Oliva was more valiant before the rural court and did not declare himself at fault since he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Together with the news of what happened to the painter, a close friend commented to me that universities also promote actions like these to “combat” all manifestations of disaffection.  They identify those people who should be reported and as a consequence these individuals receive from public admonishments to expulsion.

Reappearing in the social jargon are sayings like, “Within the Revolution everything, outside of it nothing” and “the universities are for revolutionaries.” A young student who’s not careful with their words can say good-bye to their career.  Likewise, if an excellent artist doesn’t choose their friends or interviewers correctly, they can wind up in big trouble.

In any setting we will be exposed to someone who with their gauge will pick you out or will speak against you if you say what you think, if that is not favor of what’s established.  Be careful freethinking men and women!  Tomorrow it might be you who are seen as the black magician in these revisited witch hunts.

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