Bringing Back to Life the Forgotten Dissident Writers of Cuba

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to “Before Night Falls” (Antes Que Anochezca), Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir of his life in Cuba, his teenage years fighting for Fidel Castro,  his horrific experiences as a gay man in the Castro regime’s monstrous prison system, his escape to the United States via the boatlift in the 1980s, and his experiences as a writer here. One of the most poignant episodes in the book involved the American left turning on Arenas when he condemn the Castro regime and tried to expose its human rights violations. Not only did the left ostracize Mr. Arenas, who was bitterly disillusioned by their reaction, but they turned their backs on the many other suppressed Cuban authors, who longed for freedom and who sought to commemorate the victims and survivors of the regime’s crimes through their writings. At the end of the book, Arenas pays tribute to these forgotten writers who either died in oblivion in Cuba or had tried in vain to get their works published in the United States, only to find no sympathetic ear with the American left.

Under the impression from the book, I immediately searched for these authors online in English or Spanish, and could not find a single name.

The Castros had won.

I was filled with determination to find out what happened to these people, to revive their memory, to not let the regime get away with physical and cultural murders.

I thought that evil should not reign victorious by not only destroying the oppressed, the rebels, the dissidents, the courageous souls who rose up to denounce the statist hatred of individualism, of freedom, but erasing any memory of what they once did. If no memory of these writers remains, who is to say they have ever lived, loved, grappled with fears, displayed courage, and stood up to tyranny? Who is to rebuke the oppressors, to denounce the traitors, to ensure that freedom wins, that courage, honesty, decency, and truth prevail over the deceitful regime machinery?

Alas, I had no answers, nor any real way to find the answers. I did not even know where to start.

I had not forgotten about my goal, however, merely put it away until I had the tools to start the search properly. I ended up working on a project, which sought to expose Soviet crimes against the Jews by documenting sites and stories of oppression. However, the project left me dissatisfied, and I sought more; I sought stories of resistance and courage in the face of evil, something that could give hope to the forgotten dissidents the world over, something that would be relevant to this day. I did not end up working very long on the project, but soon after, found my calling in representation of dissidents and in projects connected to assisting individuals standing up to tyranny in different countries around the world.

Although most of my efforts focused on Muslim majority countries, I had not forgotten Cuba. This past year, my search began anew.  Last week, I found myself at the Victims of Communism Centennial Commemoration. Cuba was mentioned many times, and the theme of memory was explored through various panels. I reflected on the situation we find ourselves in today. Communism did not lose, and triumph of liberty is not yet complete. On the contrary, we face challenges today inside the United States that are leading us down a very dangerous path.  On the left, the fellow travelers of Communism have embedded themselves in the country’s educational, cultural, and communications institutions, and have never been fully exposed or rooted out. On the contrary, they have had decades to exert influence over history, culture, and the minds of many under-educated young people.

The result is around us in the radicalization of the left agenda through propaganda, reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the influence of contemporary and statist Russia on social activist movements, such as Black Lives Matter, and deterioration of discourse with a growing support for Marxism among college student, with little understanding or acquaintance with Marxist writings and theories beyond bumper sticker talking points. On the right, we have the growth of religious blocks and other groups, who have grown frustrated with the change in the demographics, with the attacks on their beliefs, with what they fear to be the creeping hegemony of secularization, and have become  reflexively defensive, putting away core principles and the philosophy based in classical liberalism, Constitution, and defense of individual rights in favor of right wing identity politics and populist demagoguery.

“Christians — especially the most politically engaged Christians — have been so often mocked and attacked by a secular culture that despises not just the Church’s excesses but also the central messages of the Bible that we are reflexively defensive. When scandalous accusations come, we don’t want “our side” to look bad. We want Hollywood to be the home of the predators, and ours the home of the righteous. But there is no “our side.” There is only Christ’s side, and He taught us clearly that there will be good and evil within the Church. The ancient enemy attacks God’s people from without and from within. The good seed and the bad seed grow up together. There is no perfect community.” — writes David French.  As a result, a certain segment of the population that identifies as being on the “right” (whatever that means anymore) has made excuses for Putin, as defender of Christendom, the last hope of the Western Civilization, and our last stand against Western demagoguery — never mind his political assassinations, beatings of dissidents, invasion of other countries, and even rhetoric sympathetic to Communism, all taken from the old KGB playbook and reminiscent of the Soviet era terror.

Putin’s Russia is a stalwart ally of Raul Castro’s Cuba, and an open adversary to Western values and to freedom. American and Canadian diplomats have endured a series of attacks on Cuban soil.

After normalization of relations between the United States and Castro’s Cuba, crackdowns on political dissidents have increased.

There is a decreasing focus on preservation of freedoms and individual rights, even in a free society such as the United States.

And the past remains dark and forgotten. Today’s Cuban dissidents see no action from the US government that would give them tools for liberation or hope for freeing themselves from oppression.  Recently, however, some brave souls took it upon themselves to commemorate forgotten dissident writers in their own way. The Dissident Museum in Havana paid homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores. If only, we could have a commemoration for every writer, every poet, every forgotten voice the Castro regime has tried to silence. If only we can show that truth, freedom, and the spirit of humanity will always triumph over fear, hatred, and authoritarianism!  Having such days of commemoration on the West would surely give hope and courage to the freedom-loving people in Cuba, and would take a first step towards justice for those murdered in body or in spirit by the Castros and their henchmen.

At the VOC event, Sen. Ted Cruz said: “There is grave danger for each of us if we cease to remember the scars of Communism,As time passes by and each new generation is born, we have an obligation to guard against the dangerous consequences of collective amnesia and revisionist history. ”

And what best way to guard against this revisionism than to give space and recognition to the contemporaneous testimony of the oppression throughout history, of not letting oblivion win?

I intend to do exactly that. Through this communication, I am reaching out to the Cuban American community and am asking for your help. Please help me make this dream come true – not just my dream, but the dream of the hundreds of voices which the Castro regime seeks to make us forget. Please help me find and restore these writings – those who have been buried in the desks, hidden from sight perhaps even for decades, never published, never translated, suppressed by the Castros and rejected by the American left. Please help me bring these voices to light, let them bear witness, and let the light of truth disspell the darkness.

Please reach out to me and join me on this journey towards rediscovery and restoration of justice.

The author is a human rights and national security attorney based in New York. She can be reached by email at sicat222@gmail.com or via Facebook.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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