“The Gray Quinquennium” Or Five Black Decades?
"The Gray Quinquennium" Or Five Black Decades?
Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas, Movimiento Cristiano Liberación
Havana, February 1 2007- I will never be able to forget the days of
captivity and liberation on the Island of Pinos, where I, among many
other young Cubans, were confined to mandatory work camps.
But I don't look back on those days with hatred, nor do I hate the
professors who would "inform" on my ideological deviations, being an
adolescent that just finished secondary school. Because I was, and am, a
practicing Catholic and I didn't deny it and because of some expressed
critiques of the Government and of the Soviets who invaded Czechoslovakia.
That landed me a direct, non-stop passport to the camps of the
"punished" in May of 1969. Nor do I hate even for those that were truly
tyrants who would make us work ten hours a day like animals, dressed in
real rags, and sleeping and transporting us like livestock. I don't
remember it with hatred, because it was a luminous age and evoking those
who say, "It began in Galilea," on the origins of liberation, I must say
in continuity "it began in the Island of Pinos."
Regis Iglesias, was born in September 1969, but why do I bother
mentioning his name?
Already thousands, dozens of thousands of youth, before this period,
which we now lovingly call the grey period, have been confined in the
Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP).
They hunted people down for the UMAPs, and then later they hunted down
thousands of youth for our "punishment camps." Many saw their lives
destroyed forever. They confined religious people, children of émigrés
who were not allowed to leave the country for being of military age,
children of political prisoners, homosexuals, anyone who the Committee
of Defense of the Revolution labeled as deviant, and those who like Rock
music, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
I apologize, the image of Regis Iglesias just appeared in my mind at
this moment with his non-conformist, unfashionable hair, and his love
for Rock music, but he is not from the time period I speak of. He is
only 33 years old, and in March 2003, he was condemned to serve 18 years
in prison with the 75 Cuban Spring Prisoners.
He writes poetry, he draws, he writes articles, and he promotes the
freedom of expression, which is why he helped coordinate the Varela
Project. He does not have a card to identify himself as an artist,
intellectual or journalist, and he is not officially organized in the
Union of Cuban Journalists and Writers.
He is an independent poet, one of the Liberation youth. He is in prison
with other independent journalists and defenders of the right to freedom
of expression. But I don't want to talk about him; I don't know why he
appeared to me here, when talking about artists and intellectuals and
the nuances of the illumination and the darkness of different periods of
Ever since the beginning, I would say, with the triumph of the
revolution came the exclusion and the intolerance towards those who
think differently, express themselves differently or simply do not
appear to be "revolutionaries."
After that, began the endless questionnaires, which were required for
anyone who wanted to work or study. In the questionnaires, one had to
pour out all their past, their relationships, their intimacies, in order
to be evaluated as worthy or not worthy as a revolutionary, or a worm
and a counter-revolutionary.
These are words that are still used against those who do not adhere to
every official rule of the moment or against those who dare to propose
changes. These, and other offenses, are still shouted in acts of
repudiation that terrorize defenseless families caused by the
"intellectuals and journalists" involved in these sessions of hate and
lies known as the Roundtable Program.
Thousands of youth and others were expelled from the universities and
from their jobs. They were imprisoned only for freely expressing
themselves or for not expressing unconditional faith in the name of "the
revolution" that demands the declaration of faith and still in many
fields it demands unconditional faith. But there is more. In all margins
of society they classify and record people according to their political
behavior and thought, with the consequences of either having
opportunities or facing exclusion and repression, depending on each case.
I remember my younger brother, Carlos Alberto, who shortly after
finishing his pre University education, was subjected to, the Communist
Education Assembly, as all graduates were. This was a type of final
judgment in life, for defenseless adolescents, in order to decide if you
were worthy or not to go to the University.
During this period of the 1980s, after the gray quinquennium, the
government promoted many "acts of repudiation" or fascist persecution
against those that wanted to emigrate via the Mariel harbor. Carlos
Alberto did not go, but they called upon him to define himself as for or
against the Revolution, and he said, (like the Indian Hatuey) "if this
is a revolution, if you go to the Church to carry out an act of
repudiation, you will find me there defending the Church!" What a sin!
So, they disqualified him from entering the University.
However, years later, he was presented at an examination session among
thousands of youth in which the first winners were granted the career of
their choosing. He won, and he chose Architecture as his career. As you
can see, there are always opportunities.
In the fourth year of his career, the State Security presented itself at
the University and told him that they were going to "break him" due to
his bad ideological influences. What the State Security did was to order
the Federation of University Students, the Union of Communist Youth, and
the board of the Faculty to make a "spontaneous act of repudiation" (a
pogrom) against him so in that way he would be expelled by "the masses."
We had to send the youngest of my brothers to Spain. Many thousands,
hundreds of thousands have had to take this painful path of exile for
thinking differently, daring to speak out, or in order to search for a
horizon of freedom far away from their homeland.
I prefer to speak of facts and of actual people because everyday people,
like me, understand those facts and people better.
I will never be able to forget my friends from the Island of Pinos.
Among them was Humbertico Leon, from the rock group The Kents, who after
the year 1980, was sentenced to 4 years in prison for having written a
"dangerous" book, according to the "unofficial intellectuals" that serve
to support the tribunals. Some of these intellectuals might today be
emigrants or might still be in "the Olympus of authority."
As much as I want to talk of concepts, I always end up speaking of
actual people, but let's talk about concepts now.
I ask, "What came before and after this gray period? Perhaps freedom?
The injustice did not begin when it affected a few of the "permitted,"
nor did it end when they restored them, or reissued them licenses to
create within certain limits to realize themselves, or to be businessmen
or contract themselves and publish abroad in the midst of the "socialism
or death" paradigm that prevails for the majority.
Nor did the injustice begin when someone decided to remain abroad and
say what they had not sai
d until that moment. I understand the reaction
of many artists and intellectuals who watch someone on television who
has caused them great personal pain or who has violated their rights
during a specific period, in the name of and with the power of the
I support the right to protest and the vindication of those affected
artists and intellectuals. Many Cubans, millions, listen and watch
things on the television everyday that hurt them, which they would like
to speak out against, but they do not have a voice, and the artists and
intellectuals that have one do not speak out for them. It is necessary
to open the lens, zoom in the camera further, in order to cover all of
the time and space, in order to cover all Cubans. That would be moving
from defending ones own interests and sentiments, to something more
legitimate, to solidarity.
It is the right of all Cubans that the historic memory is opened, but
there is a greater right, which includes the previous and which is that
a new horizon of liberty and rights for all be opened. Not in an
environment of claiming accounts against one another, but in one of
reconciliation and liberation. For holding these ideals, the peaceful
Cuban political prisoners are imprisoned.
With humbleness, I am calling upon intellectuals, journalists and
artists, who live inside and outside of Cuba, of all positions and
situations. This is a call for humbleness and for options for the Cuban
people and for the nation. More than a vindication of justice for a
group of people for a grey period they suffered, this option for the
people, for solidarity, signifies defending the rights to liberty of
conscience and expression for all Cubans and promoting the national
dialogue that our society needs.
This period, of much importance, should direct us toward reflection
because intolerance and the characteristics of a culture of fear still
prevail in our society. I find it hard to believe that some intend to
find their own promised oasis in the midst of the denial of so many
rights for the majority of our citizens.
But it is a scandal, that for many Cuban artists and intellectuals, it
is not considered to be a scandal that dozens have been incarcerated,
whether they are intellectuals or not, for defending the rights of the
Cuban people. These prisoners defend all rights, from the rights of
artists and intellectuals to the rights of those who persecute them.
Cuba needs a dialogue amongst free people in order to embark upon this
new horizon, a dialogue without borders or exclusions. Perhaps we will
not come to agreement about the past, but it is our responsibility to
come to an agreement about the future, to plant some hope. We can
construct in this spirit, a new age for the new generation, who will
have the right, to wear long hair, if it comes back in fashion, or
shaved heads, if they prefer it, and to make their own time and live
their own life with liberty and fraternity.
For more information or to obtain a copy of the press release, please
contact: Francisco De Armas, International Representative, Christian