Rene Vazquez Diaz: Cuban Forgettings / Intellectual Debate

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René Vázquez Díaz, Sweden, 2007 — Last year, during a period of several months, personalities committed to the politics of cultural repression during the 1970s were interviewed on various Cuban television programs. The reappearance on the small screen of odious characters who call to mind the ferocity of mechanisms geared against creativity, art and human dignity, culminated this past 5 January with a five-minute interview of Mr. Luís Pavón Tamayo, who led the National Cultural Council between 1971 and 1976, and who the majority of Cuban writers believed was physically and politically deceased. continue reading

Opaque, astute and without scruples, Pavón was a powerful official who implemented a dogmatic political culture and who shamelessly condemned homosexuals, plunging intellectual life into what came to be known as “The Five Grey Years,” and condemned to ostracism first-rate writers like Antón Arrufat, Pablo Armando Fernández and César López. These individuals have all been recognized for the mark of creativity and beauty that they have left on Cuban culture.

In all countries there are issues of national importance about which, for long periods of time, silence is kept by tacit agreement. In Sweden, it has been the vigilance and surveillance carried out by the secret police on so-called “security risks,” which eventually affected more than 300,000 persons, many of whose work lives were ruined.

In France, it is the outrages of the genocidal war in Algeria. In Spain, it is the silence regarding Franco regime figures at all levels, from low-life torturers to businessmen and personages such as Fraga, whose television appearances never provoke revulsion in Spain.

Upon understanding that Pavón’s surprising reappearance entailed his public rehabilitation–and also a regressive movement in which Cuban intellectual life would lose a space for activism that had been steadily growing–numerous intellectuals freely and indignantly protested. Immediately, meetings were called of the Writers Union, the Institute of Radio & Television, and the Ministry of Culture.

Soon it was seen that this was not about a conspiracy, nor an attempted institutional coup to revive those bygone times of the Pavonato.* Nor was it about trying to damage the current politics, represented by the Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, and the majority of the intellectual community on the Island. But the emerging controversy offers some history lessons.

The first is that there needs to be a rigorous study of that period, and that in Cuba there are still functionaries who remain nostalgic for dogmatism and obstinacy. With sectarian spirit and a notable ahistoric sensibility, and taking advantage of the lack of culture inherent in the little world of television around the globe, somebody wanted to try out the possibility of taking a stab at current cultural politics. The sword was a wooden one. The reaction on the part of the intelligentsia and the authorities demonstrated that this past has no possibility of returning.

Another lesson is that the intellectuals who live and work in Cuba are involved in a productive process of changes, and appear to have much to defend. Their protestation, open and constructive, arose from the territory of responsibility, and a feeling that their dignity had been wounded, along with the dignity of the Nation. In turn, the reactions of many exiles were characterized by an exercise in selective forgetting, which drags them down to writing from the territory of revenge or of gratuitous mockery. One wrote that there exists an amnesia of the past and of the present; another said that the 1970s were a decade of horror. This requires a separate analysis, to contextualize the horror and open the shutters of amnesia about the past and the present.

How did that decade start out? On 17 April 1970, a group of Cuban exiles, armed and financed by the US, disembarked 22km from the city of Baracoa, killed four soldiers and gravely wounded two others. On 10 May, another group of exiles attacked two ships from the Caibarién Fishing Cooperative and kidnapped 11 crewmembers, who were left to their fate on a small island in the Bahamas.

On 12 July 1971, the same year as the Padilla case and the Education and Culture Congress, a group of exiles declared themselves the perpetrators, in Miami, of a terrorist act in Guantánamo that caused a railroad catastrophe, with a death toll of four Cubans and 17 others injured. In October, an armed motorboat from Miami attacked the small town of Boca de Samá. They killed the citizens Lidio Rivaflecha and Ramón Siam Portelles; there were four others gravely injured, two of them minors.

On 4 April 1972, the same year that I went to Poland to study naval engineering, a plastic bomb went off in the Cuban Commercial Office in Montreal. The employee Sergio Pérez del Castillo was blown to bits, and the so-called “Young Cubans Association” in Miami claimed responsibility. On 3 August of the following year, a member of the terrorist gang “Acción Cubana” [Cuban Action] died in Abrainville, near Paris, when a bomb he was preparing to fling at the Cuban embassy in Paris detonated in his hands. The explosion totally destroyed six rooms of the hotel where he was staying.

On 13 February 1974, a postal package addressed to the Cuban embassy in Madrid exploded in the La Cibeles central office, injuring an employee. On 22 April 1976, a highly destructive bomb was set off in the Cuban embassy in Lisbon and killed the functionaries Efrén Monteagudo y Adriana Corcho. On 9 July of that same year, a bomb that had been placed in a suitcase that was about to be transferred onto a Cubana de Aviación plane in Kingston, Jamaica, exploded on the ground because of a delay in the flight’s departure, thus preventing, by pure chance, the plane blowing up in full flight.

How did The Five Grey Years end? Stained in blood. On 6 October 1976, the Cubana de Aviación CUT-1201 plane blew up during a regularly-scheduled flight between Barbados and Havana, killing 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese, and 5 Koreans–73 persons total–in the first terrorist attack on civil aviation in modern times. [Luis] Posada Carriles, the terrorist responsible for that monstrous act and much more, today enjoys absolute impunity in the US, while none of the Cubans who write for the US-financed media have called for his extradition.

That era of horror cannot be analyzed with a sense of civic responsibility that is relativistic, opportunistic and selective–as the majority of Cuban exiles have done who say that they sleep with a clear conscience, while they write for a magazine such as Encuentro, which is financed by the same State that sponsors the horror of the so-called Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. The dangerousness of this document should unite all of us Cubans, independent of the position we hold regarding the Revolution, in a common humane and ethical effort to ensure a peaceful future for our compatriots.

With that project, which is counter to international law and the dignity of Cuba as a nation, the US State Department is codifying the future of the Island and secretly preparing a period of post-Castro violence, during which it will be necessary to “prepare to keep all schools open during the emergency phase of the transition, so that children and adolescents will be off the streets during that unstable time.”

What instability are they talking about? Cuban exiles will be able to claim their properties and displace the residents who today own their houses, or charge them rent and even raise it. The US will require its transitional government to shutter existing security agencies, and quickly process officials of “the previous regime” who appear on a long list of functionaries against whom they will seek “revenge.”

Because such measures (according to the report) could provoke violence and social disturbances, “the internal food supply, transportation, infrastructure and warehouse systems,” according to the State Department, “could be interrupted by the chaos that results from a power vacuum.” But, because the transfer of power would have already occurred, and because there would be no chaos or power vacuum because no Cuban wants this, Washington has announced that there is a secret addendum** to the plan that sets forth a plan to manufacture that chaos.

I propose that this secret addendum be entitled, “The Horror Clause.” For, not only is it enough to appoint an espionage mission against Cuba, and a proconsul named Caleb McCarry who, with full authority (granted by a foreign power!), will direct the reconquest of Cuba. They also have in hand that secret plan, which cannot entail anything other than a military intervention against the people of Cuba.

To disregard these facts while analyzing the difficulties and outrageousness of that [Five Grey Years] era and the one we’re living in today–speaking of Cuba as if it were not a country exposed like none other to criminal policies such as the blockade [embargo] and the Helms-Burton Act–is a way of reproducing the propaganda that the US promotes to justify its aggressions. But it will never be the honest exercise in historical introspection which we Cubans need, within and outside of Cuba.

René Vázquez Díaz, Sweden

Translator’s Notes:
*”Pavonato” is Cuban slang coined to refer to Pavón’s years at the helm of Cuba’s National Council of Culture in the 1970s.
**Former US Diplomat in Havana Wayne Smith uses the term “secret annex” to refer to this.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others.