"The Gray Quinquennium" Or Five Black Decades?

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 time.

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 said 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 revolution.

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 Liberation Movement,


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