‘Barbarossa’ Is Resurrected at the Yara Cinema With a Performance for the Military

The Yara cinema, minutes after the military left the premises / 14ymedio

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14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 28 March 2024 — Four buses of the Armed Forces parked this Thursday in front of the Yara cinema, in Havana’s Vedado district. Its passengers – a flood of soldiers, almost all of them Army and Navy recruits – had tickets for the 2:00 pm screening: I am Barbarossa, the documentary by filmmaker Rebeca Chávez about one of the most sinister architects of the Security of the State, Commander Manuel Piñeiro. 

Two days had passed since this newspaper called attention to the suspicious cloak of silence with which the regime covered the feared Barbarossa – of whom the Chilean writer Jorge Edwards even said he had “limited and influenced” the movements of Fidel Castro – during Cuba State Security’s anniversary.

It is assumed that the Armed Forces contingent had planned, well in advance, to go to the movies. Also drawing attention, in the midst of the current fuel crisis, was the deployment of four large vehicles to attend a recreational function. At the end of the event, the soldiers dispersed to the nearby food stands and, around 3:30 pm, returned to the buses. 

Navy recruits, return to the buses after the screening of the documentary / 14ymedio

This Thursday morning, Prensa Latina announced the screening of Soy Barbarroja at the Yara and noted that Piñeiro had been “one of the founders” of the Cuban counterintelligence, who owed his nickname “to the color of his beard from the time he came down from the Sierra Maestra with the rank of commander.” It also alluded to his role as promoter – from a distance – of several guerrillas in Latin America.

The agency offered few details about the movie, which recycled fragments of a 1997 CNN interview with Piñeiro, in addition to recordings of his first wife, the American dancer Lorna Burdsall; his widow, the Chilean Marxist Martha Harnecker; and his daughter, economics professor Camila Piñeiro. The documentary has only been screened once, on Cuban Television, at the beginning of the year, but it was not published by the Educational Channel on YouTube, as usually happens with this type of content.

Barbarossa ’s name also did not appear in the summary of President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s speech, during a gala honoring counterintelligence in which Raúl Castro participated and where he described the history of State Security as “the most fascinating, inspiring and patriotic” of Cuban memory. For his part, the nonagenarian soldier did not get up from his seat and his speech – actually a small letter – was read by the Minister of the Interior, Lázaro Álvarez Casas.

Army officers and recruits, walking along 23rd Avenue towards the buses / 14ymedio

Piñeiro, son of wealthy Galicians and in the shadow of Castro since the times of Sierra Maestra, died in 1998 under suspicious circumstances. The official version states that “he crashed into a tree” while he was driving his car, which was foreign to his habit. Despite his absolute loyalty to the regime that he helped form, his biography is little known to most Cubans, and he has been largely absent from the festivities for the 65th anniversary of State Security.

However, legendary enmities are attributed to him and he is the protagonist of numerous conspiracy theories. One of them, in particular, points to the strange circumstances of his death after distancing himself from politics while supposedly preparing his autobiography.


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