Past Stories, Present Realities

A sixteen-year-old Cuban boy who has just started discovering the world cannot believe that back in 1965 it was impossible to freely listen to the Beatles.

“If you wanted to do it, you had to lock yourself somewhere or hide in the solitude of a basement, almost always at night, with no witnesses, your only company being your brothers or highly reliable friends. If the Police had found you, you would have got into a huge trouble,” his 70-year-old grandfather Pedro tells him. When younger, Pedro worked in trade but is now retired. “Back in those days,” he remembers, “there were even politically conscious women, staunch revolutionaries, who were eager to support the Revolution by performing activities such as walking the streets with scissors in their hands, cutting off long hair and narrow trousers worn by youngsters of your age who wanted to follow the latest fashion trends.”

Taking in the avalanche of information he has to digest, the boy seems to be a bit confused. Until recently, his world consisted only of studying, amusing himself as children of his age do and rejoicing over allowances given to him by his relatives for good grades at school as an incentive.

Logo: Association of Former Draftees of UMAP
Logo: Association of Former Draftees of UMAP

He’s an only child. His uncle who lives in the United States came to Cuba in October for holiday and it was only then when the boy first heard about the UMAP, which is an abbreviation for “Military Units to Aid Production”, an organization in which the uncle suffered unforgettable humiliation and beatings when he was young.

Astonished, the boy listens to his uncle’s stories which sound as if they had been cut out of a fascist film.

“We had to get up at five o’clock, sometimes there was no breakfast. We had to work tirelessly until noon, when we were finally given some muck to eat before we went back to our work, which we continued doing until six o’clock in the evening. As if this wasn’t enough, we had to endure invectives, kicking and offensive words; some of the weakest boys were even raped. Those who were not able to withstand the severity of the treatment even committed suicide. Why did we end up there? Some of us were homosexuals, others were considered too religious, there were children of enemies of the Revolution… quite a broad range of people. The UMAP was perhaps one of the most brutal and unjust institutions of the first era of the Cuban Revolution. Its sole purpose was to build and boost socialism, imposing on people what was believed to be right and indisputable back then.”

The boy’s mind seems to be in a whirl. He is confused. Despite the testimonies he has just heard from his loved ones, who are so close to him, who would never lie to him, he still thinks that the Revolution is a fair process, it’s a continuation of the dreams cherished by Maceo and Martí. Moreover, his best friends are sons of supporters of the Revolution, members of the Party. Despite paying due respect to national heroes and trust the history, their conversations usually turn to the last series of the Mortal Kombat PlayStation games or to Yomil and Dany, two currently popular singers of the reggaetón style.

They have never heard of The Ladies in White movement and its Sunday marches along the Fifth Avenue. Nobody has ever told them about the UNPACU (Cuban Patriotic Union), about the hunger strikes of Guillermo Fariñas or about dozens of projects carried out by the opposition in its efforts to return democracy to Cuba.

For this boy, such illegal activities are mere adventures of some restless individuals who throw themselves to the sea, trying to escape the island and live with the “Yuma” (the Americans). He doesn’t see the extent of human tragedy that actually drives such people to take such a big step, nor is he aware of the dangers that such voyage involves.

The boy will soon finish his pre-university studies. He has always dreamt about studying Criminology. To his great disappointment, his police aspirations have been thwarted: while his two friends gained the coveted scholarship in a specialized school of the MINIT (Ministry of the Interior), he didn’t, despite beating both of them with regard to school grades. Instead, he was sent to the Polytechnic School for Reforestation of Pinar del Río.

His grandfather gives him a hug and kisses him. “Don’t take it hard, boy. You have no idea what our whole family has endured over the last sixty years. My brother is going to submit the application for family reunification next month and hopefully you will be able to study the career of your choice there. Who knows… One day you may become an FBI expert.”