The Sad Centenary of Virgilio Pinera – Part I / Angel Santiesteban

Virgilio Piñera and Fidel Castro

It has always surprised me how Cuban intellectuals, particularly the generation that lived through the seventies, which later came to be called “the five gray years,” have this bad public memory, and in general, among people they trust, they express the pain they still feel for the abuses committed against them by the functionaries faithful to Fidel Castro and his ideological and military leadership.

Many decades went by without these demons that marked them for life being exorcised, some called traitors for writing “counterrevolutionary” literature, others classified as homosexuals for being weak, along with “ideological licentiousness,” being religious, having long hair, wearing tight pants or listening to the Beatles, Nelson Ned, Cheo Feliciano, Julio Iglesias, Roberto Carlos. There was so much censorship and insanity that Kafka’s narrative began to be realistic.

They created the Military Units to Aid Production (known as UMAP*), concentration camps in the style of Stalin’s Russia. The voices of the dead from this time, who didn’t survive the torture, still call out for justice, and their souls are still waiting, impatient, for the day their names are cleared and returned spotless to their families, and their executioners pay for the injustice committed, as well as those who planned the punishment.

Many of those intellectuals who are still silent, were witnesses of those abuses, others they learned of from friends and acquaintances, all in the end were silent accomplices to evil and crime. A generation that mostly preferred to pretend they had forgotten and to continue to repeat ad nauseam compulsory slogans such as “I’m a revolutionary,” “I support the Revolution,” “I’m loyal to Fidel,’’ and to maintain that imagefearing they would suffer again what they already endured.

The executioners’ return

When the famous “War of the Emails” or I should say, “little controlled war” — when those terrible characters, visible puppets of the Cuban socialist fascism — coincidentally began to reappear in the public media, the officials of that time said it wasn’t on purpose. But in this country for more than half a century nothing happens by chance, where everything is controlled by Fidel Castro, like the great plantation he’s turned Cuban into: Birania, in honor of the name of his father’s ranch and the place of his birth, which, by the way, as part of his personality cult was turned into a museum many years ago. And, remembering his father who used to give exhaustive orders, where nobody dared to make a decision, as happens now with his brother Raul Castro who doesn’t take a single step without having consulted with the “Maximum Leader.”

The truth is that a young writer raised the alarm by email and, for the first time, the spirit of rejection was contagious. The State, seeing that the intellectual situation was running high, called to the still very disciplined elite of that generation for a meeting at the Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC). They promised, there, that these ousted officials would not return to the cultural arena, that everything that had happened was a “coincidence” and outrage of the official media censorship.

For the intellectuals who had been called together, it was enough that they’d been taken into account and they guaranteed that their executioners would not be “reactivated.” With pretty words, Fidel Castro and the Party Central Committee, that is the Party’s Department of Ideology, had no other choice than to make an official declaration, like a sea wall holding back the tsunami, that would be published in the official organ, the Granma newspaper.

And what a surprise it would be for those intellectuals that the final version published was very different from the one written at UNEAC! Some details, words, commas were erased or changed. But that generation that well learned very well to shut up, to whisper in the corridors, also let that event pass unnoticed.

Another unnoticed detail is that at that famous UNEAC meeting, the President of the Cuban Televisions Studios was summoned — a “retired” army officer who, dressed in plain clothes continued under military orders as a clerk at the whims of the Regime — and he didn’t show up because he knew that they would make him accept the blame for those mysterious appearances of the wicked on “his” television. Instead he sent another minor official who took notes of what happened, in which intellectuals demanded a retraction, an official apology from the President of the TV that would be published in the national media.

Promises gone with the wind

Weeks later, when they intellectuals present at the meeting began to inquire into public repentance, they were told it was a promise of the above mentioned President of Television and it would be given at the right moment; of course it never came. And again these intellectuals silenced their voices faced with that commitment. Of course they didn’t understand, or didn’t wish to, that they had been manipulated in the very rights of their spaces, of their work, and of their history full of ears; they were the seawall.

Meanwhile, the emails continued, and some started narrating passages of those events. The note in the newspaper wasn’t enough, they had to be other concessions, they let the blood run from their old wounds. And behind closed doors, by personal invitation to the headquarters of the Casa de las Americas, they agreed that they would expiate their sufferings. Later, far from social media, they went to the Superior Art Institute (ISA), and there like little girls they shed their long-stifled tears.

I was always waiting for one of the injured to point out the real culprit, whom we all knew was Fidel Castro, the intellectual author of all our national sufferings. But, unanimously, they all preferred to remain silent. Nobody mentioned the name of the Beast of Biran, for them was enough being allowed to expel, like volcanoes, all they had suffered, so that, satisfied, they went back to silencing their secrets and stopped being news.

Mentioning the real culprit of the terror

In an email exchange with the writer Amir Valle, I told him the artists had spoken their minds with those functionaries who were no more than puppets, but that nobody mentioned the name of the real cause of the Evil: Fidel Castro.

I was surprised to see a file with all the collected emails, from one side and the other, and that mine wasn’t taken into account. Then several writers who were present in the meeting at UNEAC told me that wouldn’t be very “intelligent” to mention the comandante, that they must act sensibly. In other words: they could play with the chain, but never with the monkey.**

That was enough to confirm what I already knew for sure: the fear of that generation was so deeply seated, that the roots barely reached the surface. Thus, the names of those victims of UMAP, the parametrados***, the excluded, the executed (no one remembers, any more, the atrocious shooting of the writer Nelson Rodriguez Leyva, author of the marvelous book “El Regalo” (The Gift), published in 1964 with the Virgilio Piñera’s collaboration), the censored, the anguished, the tortured, like Piñera himself, Lezama Lima, Rodríguez Feo, Reinaldo Arenas, Heberto Padilla, among others who should be still expecting their compatriots, friends and colleagues to settle the debt and point out the real culprit of their personal disgraces and the national cultural ones.

The culprit of all that literary and artistic work that the established Regime of Terror had cut short by their authors’ fear, and the need to survive at any cost, a military and communist dictatorship that launched its absolute Power against any vestige of free creation.

Translator’s notes:
*UMAP — Military Units in Aid of Production, a euphemism for concentration camps for homosexuals, religious, and others considered in need to “re-education” or simply confinement.

*“You can play with the chain, but not with the monkey,” is a common Cuban expression.

***Parametrados / parametración: From the word “parameters.” Parametración is a process of establishing parameters and declaring anyone who falls outside them (the parametrados) to be what is commonly translated as “misfits” or “marginalized.” This is a process much harsher than implied by these terms in English. The process is akin to the McCarthy witch hunts and black lists and is used, for example, to purge the ranks of teachers, or even to imprison people.

Translating Cuba is in the process of translating the emails exchanged in “The little email war,” also called “The Intellectual Debate,” and they can be found here and here.

Translated by @Hachhe

September 5 2012