Historical Revisionism and “Untouchable” Cubans

Bas-relief of Fidel Castro in the Plaza de la Revolución Ignacio Agramonte, in Camagüey. (Mi comarca / Aymee Amargós Gorrita)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 June 2020 — These are times of statues taken from plazas, of historical names questioned and of intense debates about the way we look at the past, but – as with so many other tendencies – these controversies that spread across the world barely reach Cuba. In a country with too many “untouchable” public figures, even to think about a process of reviewing the national events and subjects of the last half century sounds like a distant utopia.

We live in a nation where debate about the official faces and criticism of government decisions has been denied for so long that we are surrounded by issues frozen, enshrined and removed from any discussion on the part of civil society. Not being able to question, not even comedians can publish cartoons about party leaders, officials or ministers. Unlike what happens in other places where busts are removed, here we are surrounded by “living statues” that cannot be touched with even the hint of a critique.

However, this prolonged and obligatory silence on so many transcendent questions will not prevent these discussions from happening some day, and even the delay bringing them to light may be serving as a stimulus for controversy. One of the most intense, without a doubt, will be directed around the figure of Fidel Castro, who will be at the center of the diatribe in a future Cuba. There is no way he can be saved from the controversy and the contrasting points of view of his actions. All attempts to officially sanctify him to avoid scrutiny will do little good if democratic winds blow on this Island.

Perhaps because he sensed the public pillory that awaited him, Castro preferred to avoid statues, although he left several bas-reliefs with his face in numerous squares in the country. Therefore, his fate will not be the tearing down of a bronze figure but the historical judgment against an individual and a system. There will be no images of defaced sculptures, but very probably new editions of history books will be prepared, the academics will tear apart his political testament and even the progressives of that time will put a healthy distance between their postulates and those of the Commander. The discussion about the permanence of his tomb, so close to the remains of José Martí, will also come and stoke the passions.

The hardest blow will fall when in a fluid and natural way, in the conversations and memories, the word “dictator” slips in when talking about Castro, while “dictatorship” is used to name his time in power. Those terms, coined by popular usage, installed in memory and ratified by scholars, will be like thousands of hammers beating against the statue of his legacy.


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