Pablito, and Selective Historical Memory

Pablo Milanés performed for the last time in Cuba, in June, in a concert not without tension and polemic. (Pablo Milanés Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, 3 December 2022 – Those who today, even after his death, reproach Pablo Milanés for what he said or stopped doing in previous times, have a very selective memory. The majority of people who lived during the first two decades of the Revolution belonged to the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and were present at the mass rallies in Revolution Square. So did those, who, not as long ago, supported in one way or another the condemnation of asylum seekers in the Peruvian Embassy or those who emigrated from the port of Mariel. These days many of them condemn Pablito for his past, but not for anything in the world do they acknowledge criticism of their own past.

You could understand criticism of anyone who left Cuba before 1968, a period when, through the so called “Revolutionary Offensive“, everything remained controlled by the Party-State elite, when it wasn’t yet possible to work independently of the state, and it was imperative, if you wanted to get a job, to be part of the so-called “organisations of the masses”. These people didn’t really live in a totalitarian dictatorship. But to those who lived through it you have to say: “don’t ask others to do what you weren’t able to do, and don’t criticise others for doing what you too, in one way or another, also did yourself”.

If you say that Pablito was very late in correcting things in order to be on the right side of history, then what exactly is the right moment for separating the “early” from the “late”? Perhaps the day they “changed their opinion”? And if our melodic poet changed his opinion very late then what can we say about those who haven’t yet done so themselves, but could still one day do so?

And this is the message that he is sending to them: “Dear repressors, keep repressing the people. Dear police and soldiers, keep supporting the tyranny. Dear intellectual apologists, keep on defending the disgrace. All of you, carry on supporting those responsible for the misery and oppression of all the  people, because, at the end of the day, the eternal condemnation of History will inevitably fall upon you”.

I don’t know about History, but with this message the ignominy will be maintained far beyond these guys’ lives, and the guiltiest people will be quite happy with this tremendous service that they are giving them.

If you announce to the defenders of a besieged garrison that they’ll all be executed when the stronghold is overrun, then nobody will surrender and the battle will be prolonged, because everyone will fight to the death at the cost of more lives on both sides, that is if there’s anyone left surviving at all.

On the other hand, it has to be said that if we are fighting for a Cuba in which all the rights and liberties of its citizens are to be respected, then you have to respect the rights of those who still believe in, and defend, the badly named Revolution, without violating the rights of those who think differently. But one needs to send a different message to those from the other side who violate those rights — a message like the one that the glorious Oswaldo Payá launched at his persecutors: “I don’t hate you Brother, but I’m not afraid of you either”.

I pity those who still call for “those guilty of the Cuban tragedy to be hung from guasima trees with barbed wire”, a view generally held more commonly among those who have suffered the least, those who ignore the lessons of history and wish for the repetition of the same mistakes that brought us to this calamitous situation; those who packed the squares and yelled for the death of those supposed guilty of other mistakes of the past and later were forced to go into exile or wound up in prison. Or, worse, like that commander of the Revolution, doctor Sorí Marín, who signed the decree of executions and was later executed himself for the law which he himself redacted. So many innocent people lost their lives in front of firing squads having been sentenced without due process.

History’s reach goes further than this; when they said that there could not have been anything worse than the machadato [1920’s tyrannical government of president Machado], and, after that was over, the mobs took to the streets to lynch anyone who was marked out as a porrista [government cheerleader], though it was never proven, and they were dragged through the streets in a general chaos which Machado himself prophesied whilst boarding the plane that took him to exile — a chaos that has continued to this day — well later came even worse: el batistato [the Batista regime]. And many said: “there can’t be a regime worse than this”. And the blood flowed, and it carried on flowing, after the arrival of a newer, and worse regime still. And today they’re still saying the same thing.

Enough. We have to put an end to this prolific chain of tyrannies — an end to hatred and reprisal, each time more shameful than the last — before we all drown in a sea of blood.

We cannot build a republic of peace on the foundations of the gallows. Or as a visionary named José Martí once said about the Russian revolutionaries of his time: “The steel of incentive is no use for the founding hammer”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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