Domingo, 19 de Enero de 2020
Última actualización: 16:13 CET

No bandits, scum, or mercenaries (bandidos, escoria, mercenarios): learning to speak without the keywords of Castroist propaganda

1980. Cuban refugees wait to disembark in Key West, Florida. (AP)

On March 11 Cuban television aired The Other War (La otra guerra) a series on the civil conflict (1960-1966) that took place in the center of the Island and produced thousands of victims. As is typical of political propaganda, the series seems to lack the essential balance between good and evil, and exhibits a substantial detachment from historical truth: the "bandits” (bandidos) remain those who rose up against the Communist regime; the civil war is still called "clean-up of Escambray," (limpia del Escambray) as if it just involved cleansing some pestilent redoubt.     

Assuming that the democratization of information, and the passage of time, have enabled those living on the island to harbor a more balanced understanding of those days can be a critical mistake. There may be no little glasses of milk, or free bread, as had been promised by the regime, but a steady diet of anti-history and political manicheism is and will be guaranteed. Most of our compatriots have a skewed view of the past, and, as a consequence, of the future. As with the psychotic, their views are impervious to the logic of evidence.   

Perhaps for this and many other reasons it is necessary to explain to newcomers, before any legal process, or job application, that there are words and concepts that on this side of the water are not used, or are understood in a completely different way, or are even offensive. Fernando Ortiz conceived the term catauro, a kind of rustic basket used in fields, as a dictionary to "translate" Cuban terminology that is difficult to understand for other Spanish speakers, or those speaking other languages.

A generous humanitarian gesture would be to read to each new Cuban immigrant this new catauro,  a kind of lexical primer. For example, those who live in this country and in this city are not gusanos (worms). We are people. Those arriving probably still call escoria (scum) those who left from the Port of Mariela; as in, "He came with the scum." We should talk about the thousands of Cubans who arrived 50 years ago with nothing but the shirts on their backs, or those who, 40 ago, crammed into boats full of madmen and criminals. They are the ones who have built this beautiful and vibrant city.  

Cuba was no pseudocolony of the US. In 1959 almost 70% of Cuban industry and commerce were in the hands of nationals. It was a republic whose independence was recognized on May 20, 1902, and not on January 1. Cuba was a country that had several presidents (some true heroes in the War of Independence), a Senate, House, and Supreme Court, with their highs and lows, but more good than bad, allowing it to became one of the most advanced republics in the Americas in the 50s. 

Among the ranks of the strong opposition to the Batista regime there were rich people, merchants, professionals, workers, peasants and students. It was not a "class struggle". No senior leader of the armed opposition to Batista was a worker or a peasant.  And in the early months of the effort there was little talk of Communism, Lenin or Marx. In fact, the Cuban people were thoroughly anti-Communist. Unfortunately for the propagandists, there are reels and reels of film and hundreds of yellowed pages constituting incontrovertible evidence of this.

The catauro of terms should include a chapter dedicated to the Bay of Pigs. The so-called "mercenaries" were young Cubans who did not fight under the US flag, but rather that of their homeland, Cuba. They did receive US financial support and training. But, as history would have it, there has not been a single strike against an oppressor in Cuba that has not been funded by and supported from the US territory, whether actively or passively. Here in Miami they respect and revere the "invaders" of the Bay of Pigs. To say otherwise is an insult to the memory of nearly 100 Cubans killed in combat, or who ended up in prison.

Finally, it is important for the catauro or primer for the visitor/emigrant to Miami to clarify that the "clean-up of Escambray" was an actual civil war in the Cuban mountains, and that the regime displaced entire civilian populations to the far end of the island, seizing all their property, as part of a kind of a "reconcentration" that gave rise to the infamous "captive towns."

There were atrocities on both sides: summary executions, torture, indiscriminate bombing.  Many "bandits" had been officers of the Rebel Army, peasants who had served in the columns that took Santa Clara and other cities in Las Villas and Camagüey. Which is why the fighters in Escambray should really be called "mutineers."  

Cuban television can keep making all the TV series its wants, while paying with the material and spiritual poverty of a whole people. Once Cubans have reached this country, they ought to know that those over here have the right, and the duty, to tell the other side. Those who step on this soil will realize, as Rabindranath Tagore said, that the truth does not belong to he who screams loudest.

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