José Martí is not the precursor of the Cuban Revolution, nor can one establish continuity between the mambises [Cuban independence fighters of the 1800s] and the Stalinist regime in place since 1959. “This telling of the story is an ideological swindle,” said Carlos Alberto Montaner in a series of three lectures in Miami from February 16 to 18 at the Casa Bacardi Center for Cuban and Cuban-American studies.
The course was very well received in this city, recognized as “the capital of the historical exile” and one of the places where Cuba’s Republican era legacy, erased at a stroke after the Revolution of 1959, is best preserved. “It is a way of maintaining Cuban roots, which is something that after all these years I have not lost. Even my children will identify themselves as Cubans, not Cuban Americans, but simply Cubans,” he told 14ymedio’s Pilar Ramos, a 61-year-old architect of Cuban origin who attended the event.
Montaner shined in the domain of national history, which he presented from a bird’s eye view, sprinkled with picturesque anecdotes. He presented colonial Cuba explaining, from an international perspective, the main events of the time, from the economic boom under the English flag, to the bitter slavery paid for with the rum produced on the island and the lives of one million Africans claimed in the Cuban countryside.
The presentation of Republican era Cuba and “Revolutionary” Cuba were the richest moments, especially for young people from the island, educated under the Marxist historiography dedicated to rewriting history, as in George Orwell’s 1984. “This is a vital issue for me, because I am nothing but Cuban and I also believe it is important to explain and revindicate that Republic has been unfairly vilified,” said Montaner, who showed both the lights and shadows of the Cuban Republic. He described the causes that led to the coup of 1952, a disastrous prelude to the end of democracy in the country.
A special section was, of course, the establishment of communism in Cuba and the figures of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. Decades of Castroism must be assessed in their appropriate perspective to understand national history, distancing oneself from the opposing positions that remain both in Cuba and in exile. “Using history as a weapon, I believe, is a mistake, history is an account that needs to be told as objectively as possible,” said researcher.
For Montaner, “In the exile there remains a Cuba that is not going to return. The Cuba of the future will be different but hopefully it will recover the virtues of the Cuba of the past.” The journalist has hope that a phenomenon similar to what occurred in the countries of Eastern Europe after the collapse of socialism will also occur on the island. “When the time came for democracy they tried to retrieve their own history that had been destroyed or disguised by the agents of communism.”
He could not fail to reflect on the announcement of Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba, the first by a US president in 88 years. “The idea of unilaterally decreeing the end of the Cold War in the Caribbean, without engaging the adversary, is so naïve that it stuns me. It goes against the United States’ own institutions and can only be explained by the psychological and intellectual nature of President Obama.”
While for some of the attendees it was a recalling of the years they had lived through, for others it was peek into a story that has been off-limits to Cubans for decades because of partisan interests. The history of Cuba in three lessons demands continuity. A well-known saying tells us that a people ignorant of its own history is doomed to repeat it, or as Cicero said, “not knowing what happened before us, is like being children forever.” It is time for us to grow up.