With such discipline as my training provides, I am carefully reading, for the second time, an article published on page 3 of Granma (May 4th, 2011), in a section created to reminisce about the revolutionary liturgical and dated events of the moment, which they named Remember Girón. The referenced article, entitled “I was the youngest combatant at Bay of Pigs”, is signed by someone named Ramón Jerez Carmenate, recounting in the first person his own experiences from participating in that battle 50 years ago.
In case any readers are now wondering what kind of morbid masochist wish has me reading a Granma article more than once, let me assure you that I would not have conceived such journalistic cynicism otherwise. Let me suggest to you to share my impressions from a brief account of what Jerez Carmenate states. This gentleman says: “I turned barely 13 August 20th, 1960 and joined the militia with my brother Luis, who was born in ‘46”, which means he was a mere boy then, as was his brother, just 14.
Anyone in their right mind would question, for starters, what kind of parents would allow their underage children to become part of an entity destined for war; so the author justifies it his way: “My old man tried to persuade us and talked to us about joining the Youth Patrols and Rebel Youth, but we always wanted to do what we had not been able to accomplish during the war: to fight the enemy face to face”.
Another question would be what kind of institution or government would authorize the recruitment of children into armed militias, and here again the author explained: “Thus, in Jaimanitas, where he lived, they finally allowed me to become militia, though I, at least, was put through huge obstacles because of my age, and I can’t even remember how it was that they let me in”. It is a pity that Ramón Jerez’s memory failed at this point, though he must be only around 63 today, and – curiously — does remember that “The FAL rifle they assigned to me was almost bigger than I was, but I managed to get along with it”. On the other hand, Jerez recognizes that “… this was the age of playing, and pencils, and notebooks, and I was already acquainted with guns, and bullets, and machine guns”. Granma sketches his testimony this way, as the adventures of a cute militant boy.
But that child’s participation in the militia was not merely symbolic, judging by his own words. The writer recalls that in the midst of the events at the Bay of Pigs, “on the morning of April 17, my unit, J, was sent into the combat zone, which we didn’t even know where it was located…” and later he summarizes his personal experiences those war days in other passages. I quote, because they are self-explanatory:
“… The four mouth kids gave the mercenary aircraft hell, and those that we didn’t down, we prevented from completing their mission of massacring the population and attacking our troops.”
“On April 18th, at the entrance to Playa Larga, I really found out what it was to fight against airplanes, because we found ourselves facing two enemy B-26. In the afternoon, we continued the charge, and if it wasn’t because a portion of our location was changed, we would have suffered several casualties, because a rocket fell where we had just been”.
“Then we continued the advance towards Playa Girón, and on the morning of the 19th they greeted us with a shower of mortars, cannons and machine-gun-50 bursts”.
On seeing the fall of other members of the militia, Ramón Jerez states that, “Those scenes of seeing dead and wounded comrades, instead of filling you with fear, they make you fight against the enemy with more hatred and anger”. The author himself confesses that he was unaware of being the youngest fighter at the Bay of Pigs, until writer José Mayo — author of a book entitled “Hero Children of Bay of Pigs” — confirmed it.
In short, in 1961, not in Batista’s Cuba, but already in the revolutionary era of social justice, the socialist character of the process just recently declared by group acclamation, and in clear violation of any civilized human principle, the Cuban government allowed sending children to war.
However, I may not been paying much attention to a Granma chronicle, which was, by the way, certainly splashed with bravado, but because I remembered that the same newspaper, dated instead April 1st 2011, had published an article titled Children of War (page 7) signed by Sara Cazal Sardón, where she, very rightly so, denounced the violation of the Facultative Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of Children, which manifests itself in the actual recruitment of minors by government groups and insurgencies in Africa and other underdeveloped areas of the world, in order to have them engage in war. The reporter wisely argued that “children are cannon fodder.
It doesn’t matter whether they are recruited by force or voluntarily. Once trained for war, they fear nothing”. And she pointed out that “In addition to the physical effects that come with participation in conflict, children suffer severe consequences on an emotional level.” I could not agree more.
But her article did not just refer to Third World regions as responsible for such violations. Cañizal also noted that “… though in Europe and the United States minors do not participate in wars, they are trained in recruitment camps for minors. In the US, the Pentagon recruits children in schools as young as 14 (…). The purpose is the same: to train them to kill”. And she concludes by launching a sentence I would gladly subscribe to 100%: “The recruitment of children is a war crime and it goes against the declaration of Children’s Rights. In any situation, children should be the first to receive protection and aid, and they must be isolated from all kinds of cruelty and exploitation. A world that sends its children to war is doomed to its own destruction”.
What I don’t understand is how the official journalism could have forgotten – if it’s about an oversight and not about flagrant disrespect to its readers — what it published before about this issue and now, after just one month, can contradict itself in such an absurd manner. Is it any less criminal to recruit militant children at Playa Girón? Even taking into account that it was the exception and not the rule than those of other children of the world in times of war? Is it that the main Cuban newspaper, at the same time it grants itself the right to criticize the Pentagon, has the nerve to ignore the existence of military schools for teens in Cuba, such as Camilo Cienfuegos Military Schools, nicknamed “the Camilitos”? Don’t these military Cuban schools also teach our young “to kill”?
What could also be categorized as criminal is the cult of war violence and the use of weapons against other Cubans, established as values to be imitated, which each anniversary are endorsed in children’s representations of an imaginary attack the Moncada Barracks, the landing of the expedition of the yacht Granma, the attack on the Presidential Palace, the fighting guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, the invasion of the Rebel Army and of many other acts of war being taught to students of primary and secondary education as top examples of heroism. It seems that the Cuban government is in possession of a special license that allows it to promote war in a child’s fancy, without constituting a reprehensible or sinister incident.
It would be nice if the director of Granma and all those responsible for the official Cuban press would be a tad more careful when selecting the themes of their “news” media. After they have already lost their professionalism and decorum, a bit of silence could be useful, at least to save decency… if decency has indeed survived all the shooting.
6 May 2011