Give It Time / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 April 2015 — Looking over some documents from different eras, I have determined that, when it comes to renaming things, our authorities have broken all records. Victims of their frenzied efforts have included numerous streets, public plazas, parks, virtually all sugar refinery factories, businesses and outlying buildings, towns, cities, provinces, commercial and service establishments, educational and health care facilities, theaters, cinemas and even some of the keys within our archipelago. One needs the patience of a saint to find a name from the past that is still in use today. I can only imagine how arduous the work of our historians must be.

The result has been to create widespread historical confusion, which strikes me as being more than a coincidence given that it happens to coincide with an interest in blotting out significant parts of our past in order to address the political needs of particular moments in time.

If we take a look at some of these changes, we see that Havana’s former Civic Plaza is now referred to as the Plaza of the Revolution. This latest designation has also been applied to every town square in every municipality in every province. The possible exception is Tenth of October, where it is referred to as Red Square, though it might more appropriately be called Black Square in honor of all the grime that has accumulated there.

The historic beer factory La Tropical (shuttered along those of La Polar and Hatuey) has for years now been called Jose Marrero. The Saint Francis Piers are now called the Sierra Maestra. The neighborhood formerly known as Country Club is now Cubanacán. The Blanquita Theater is now the Karl Marx (not even Carlos Marx).

The names of all the sugar refineries along with those of their outlying buildings were replaced with names of personalities from the new pantheon of saints established after January 1, 1959. Gone also were well-known, resonant names such as Toledo, Hershey, Constancia, Narcisa, Cunagua, Jaronu, Najasa Violeta, Baltony, Chaparra, Jobabo, Preston, Miranda, San Germán and many more, to be replaced by 161 others, which was the total number of enterprises at the time. A cement factory known as Titan was rechristened José Mercerón.

An even greater misfortune befell commercial establishments. Rather than allowing the stores to retain their original names, in a showy display of bureaucratic pretension, each was given a letter and number that identified it by province. As though that were not enough, Isla de los Pinos (Isle of Pines) was rechristened Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). At least its residents are still referred to as pineros rather than as they might otherwise be called: juventuderos. Then there is Key Smith, located in Santiago de Cuba Bay, now called Key Granma*.

As absurd as these examples are, the saddest case is that of so-called Granma province (the repeated use of this name is striking), formerly known as Bayamo province out of respect for its rich history. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the father of the country, was bayamés, and the first government of an independent Cuba was established here. Its citizens burnt down their city rather than hand it over to the enemy. The flag hoisted here was the flag of Bayamo and the first stanza of our national anthem begins, “To the battle in haste, Bayameses…” To Cubans, Granma is simply a letter of the Greek alphabet, the name of a yacht, a baseball team and a newspaper, and a very tedious one at that.