Of UMAP and Other Demons
Of UMAP* and Other Demons / Henry Constantin
Posted on May 18, 2013
UMAP: Citizens’ force used for the good of society. Brilliant idea of
UMAP: Citizens’ force used for the good of society. Brilliant initiative
of military cadres.
A common school, half in ruins, half with children in uniform, with its
Cuban flag and signs on the walls. The boys talk among themselves, then
look with curiosity at the stranger, who takes photos of enormous
homeless sites behind the surviving classrooms. Everything seems normal
in that country schoolhouse. But there is a shadow. The stranger quickly
quits with the photos. The last: some cement squares next to the door,
“like a booth in a military unit,” he thought. He crosses the potholes
of the road and approaches the wooden houses. They welcome him, give him
water, talk about the sunshine and the plums. The stranger, who has
already been introduced, happily drinks the coffee they also offer him,
smiles, and thanks the lady and shuts up. It’s that there is a shadow.
Then, he asks the man of the house, an old man with a mustache, “Is it
true that the elementary school, a long time ago, was a UMAP*?” He
points at the half-boarding Batalla de Guisa school, whose kids have no
idea what was suffered there forty-some years ago. The farmer stops
smiling. He hesitates, stutters, speaks softly, looks at the floor.
“Yes, yes… but no. I’m not looking for problems.” Someone says, “They
took the people there to some banana groves to work.”
Other visits to the farmers around then, other evasions, “Yes, yes, some
of that happened. One guy set himself on fire and the screams could be
heard for miles. But I do not know anything else. “
One lady says, “There was a lot of damage. There were dungeons, there at
So I ask, in other houses, people who lived there, in the hamlet of
Manolin, ten kilometers from the southern town of Cuatro Caminos,
Camagüey, in the sixties, that time of so much luminous Revolution, and
so many prison cells and firing squads — more than any time in the
history of Cuba.
Those who respond say yes and open their eyes as if amazed at what
they’ve just be reminded of. They know more or less that the collapsed
schoolhouse was a UMAP camp, run by officers of the Revolutionary Armed
Forces, and serious things happened to those interned there.
“What things?” and then they hesitated, “Better ask so-and-so, who lived
closer.” And the faces of mystery, the silence, the evasions in the
faces of the interviewed farmers tell me more than everything they can
say to me: there are the silent screams of an abysmal shadow that hangs
over the people in Cuba, not only those of these fields of Najasa, but
so many in this country who live filled with fear of saying in public
what they want and what they know.
And I write it of course: the biggest problem with the forced internal
silence about the UMAP issue is not that there is discrimination based
on sexual behavior today in Cuba and it remains in the minds of
thousands of Cuban men and women and in the structures of leadership,
nor that the one who manages this issue officially here is a member of
the governing family — which stinks of nepotism — nor than they try to
hide the past, among other reasons to avoid a settling of accounts,
inopportune repentance and reparations for the victims. The worst is the
infinite fear that still infects millions of people in this country, a
logical fear induced from above which, while it exists, prevents Cubans
from speaking freely of their desires, concerns and complaints, of their
past, and even more seriously, of their present.
That grave mystery that the people around the little school that was
UMAP remember fearfully, is proof. Where there are people afraid to
speak there is no peace.
*Translator’s note: UMAP, “Military Units to Aid Production,” was a
series of concentration camps where the regime imprisoned its “enemies”
including homosexuals, religious believers, writers, artists,
intellectuals and others.
18 May 2013prison, school