Truth and Memory Weekly Bulletin on UMAP / HÉCTOR SANTIAGO

Government paper headline: UMAP forges citizens useful to society


UMAP* was more terrible than what has been said, because they tried to change homosexual orientation through so-called scientific methods which, imported from the USSR, consisted of insulin injections and the application of electroshocks, interacting with images of naked men, on the one hand, and naked women on the other. So the images of men became a punishment, and the images of the women a reward, the reward being not to be subjected to electroshock therapy. They applied this to us with a mixture of the childishness and depravity reflected in Ivan Petrovich Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. A true horror of the twentieth century.

UMAP began long before the first call to Military Service in 1965: They had started secretly making lists in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution [the block-watch groups] of the “antisocials” in each neighborhood, and had purged the scholarship lists and the University of Havana, and beginning in 1961 they started with the so-called “round-ups.” I had the honor of falling, with Virgilio Piñera into the “Three P’s” — Prostitutes, Pederasts and Pimps — in the Havana camp in mid-adolescence.  I was signed in there, along with other artists, common prisoners, and those imprisoned in the Gallery 16 of homosexuals in the Prisión del Príncipe, who formed the first contingent.

We lived for a month as Esmeralda, a mixed camp, where we homosexuals were separated by electrified fences from the so-called “normals,” and then taken to Sola, Ciego de Ávila and other camps exclusively for homosexuals, as they moved us according to their needs for labor. Finally, my rebelliousness landed me in Malesar y Manatianbo: a true inferno built next to a swamp with mosquitoes that looked like butterflies and every kind of infection and diarrhea.

After a year that called me and put me in a jeep and with no explanation I landed in Havana in front of my house: it would be years before it was known that Nicolás Guillén, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Mirta Aguirre and other members of the government worked for the release of artists like José Mario, Jorge Ronet, etc. — which even today makes me feel guilty for all my unlucky companions who didn’t have anyone to intercede for them and committed suicide, went insane, and did their supposed three years — followed by more round-ups, purges at work, the Vagrancy Act and the “Parametración*” against artists in the 1970s.

The Observatorio LGBT (LGBT Observatory), an independent LGBT rights organization, is preparing a weekly bulletin detailing Cubans’ memories of “la UMAP*.” This is the first memory from this first bulletin. Translating Cuba will continue to bring you these memories in translation.

Translator’s notes:

*UMAP – Military Units to Aid Production — was a network of concentration camps for “counterrevolutionary elements,” including homosexuals, religious believers and others.

**“Parametrizar” (the verb — meaning “to set parameters”) or “parametración” (the noun) was a process implemented during the so-called “Five Grey Years” (1971-76), that imposed strict guidelines on cultural figures and educators with regards to their sexual preferences, religious beliefs, connections with people abroad and other aspects of their personal lives. This policy was confirmed after the 1971 National Congress on Education and Culture. Homosexual artists were ostracized, cultural influences from capitalist countries were banned, and cultural ties to Cubans living in exile were severed. (“Bad elements,” including homosexuals and others, were also interned in concentration camps known as “UMAP” — Military Units in Aid of Production.) The 2007 return on Cuban television of the figures responsible for this policy was a key event that eventually led to the reaction that sparked the beginning of the independent blogosphere reflected here in  See “The Intellectual Debate” for more background in English.


From University of Miami Libraries: Holder of Hector Santiago’s Papers

Héctor Santiago Armenteros Ruiz is a versatile artist who was involved in theater in Cuba, before and after the Cuban Revolution, and in the United States. He worked as an actor, playwright, director, choreographer, dancer, and puppeteer.  Santiago was born in Havana, Cuba in 1944. He graduated from the Cuban National Dramatist School after studying literature at the University of Havana. In 1959, he co-founded the Children’s Theatrical Movement in Cuba. The writer Virgilio Piñera was his intimate friend and his literature professor throughout those active years.

In 1965, Santiago was accused of antisocial behavior.  Five years later he was arrested and his literary works seized by the government.  The artist was sentenced to three years service in UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production), which was a type of Cuban forced labor camp where political dissidents were made to work in inhumane conditions.  In 1979, he left Cuba for Spain.  Santiago was eventually able to move to New York, where he resides today.

Santiago has been active in promoting HIV awareness in New York City.  He has shown a strong desire to portray the social and human impacts of the disease, as it was a theme in his plays throughout the 1980s.  He once said, “As a human being, I have tried to bring light to these dark times and unflaggingly struggled so that man does not become man’s wolf.”

Many of his plays have been performed in Cuba and in the United States.  His short stories, essays, and plays have been published and translated into English, French and Catalan. His play Vida y Pasión de la Peregrina (Life and Passion of the Pilgrim) was the winner of the Golden Letters Award from the University of Florida, and the world premiere took place during the Miami International Theatre Festival in 1998.

Authors: Marta Martínez and Rachel Ewy