Cuba: the return of the acts of repudiation, the Cuban variant of the “escrache” against the “worms”

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They began to take place in the 80s, with the departure of the “marielitos” to Miami. Now they are less frequent but it involves artists, intellectuals and anyone who criticizes the regime.

October 10, 2020. Five Cuban anti-government activists address a meeting at a private home in Old Havana. In the street a mob awaits them with loudspeakers loaded with reggaeton. As they prepare to open the door, an anonymous voice gives the order: “Go ahead, people!” The act of repudiation begins.

“There were several dozen. First they started to take our phones away. Then they started hitting us, to shake, they pulled me by the hair. They yelled at me mercenary, worm, bitch. They also shouted long live Fidel and sang the national anthem “, recalls the artist Tania bruguera, one of the five harassed dissidents. The video that he recorded with his mobile and that he broadcast live on Facebook corroborates the facts.

Art curator Anamely Ramos and writer Katherine Bisquet received a similar ambush on the same day, which has returned to focus on a practice that seemed forgotten: the act or meeting of repudiation. What is it, when did it emerge, who organizes it, what purposes does it pursue and how has this controversial political resource of the Cuban brand evolved over time?

“Acts of repudiation They are the Cuban variant of the pogrom or the escrache and they consist of a group of supporters of the Cuban Government meeting to shout political slogans, moral disqualifications and personal offenses against a disaffected person, a dissident or an opponent “, defines Rafael Rojas, Cuban historian and essayist exiled in Mexico.

In 1980 the government of Fidel Castro experienced its first great internal crisis of legitimacy. Ten thousand Cubans riot at the Peruvian Embassy to request asylum. In response, Castro temporarily allows people to leave the country and more than 125,000 emigrate to the United States between April and October.

Nicknamed “worms” and considered traitors by the ruling party, these citizens were the target of the mobs organized in the first acts of repudiation.

“To counter the images of the thousands of Cubans who had expressed interest in leaving the country, the Government needed massive mobilization of people who demonstrated publicly in favor of the regime, “explains Cuban author and historian Abel Sierra Madero, a doctorate from New York University (NYU), and EFE.

Images and videos survive from those times in which it is observed how masses of citizens armed with banners and megaphones harass with blows and insults (“scum”, “lumpen”, “antisocial”, among others) to their neighbors, co-workers and even family members who decide to leave for enemy territory.

Organized by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) -organisms of social and ideological surveillance of the State to which the majority of the 11.2 million Cubans are attached- the acts of repudiation generally took place in front of the houses of the “traitors” or at ports and airports on the day of your departure.

In many cases the relatives they left behind in Cuba also suffered the wrath of militant neighbors. “‘Here lives a traitor!’ or ‘Worms out!’ they were some of the graffiti that appeared in the homes of those who were leaving, “says the academic.

The historian Jesús Arboleya, who was Cuban consul in the United States during the Mariel Exodus of 1980, reveals the other side of the coin to Efe in this peculiar phenomenon.

“There the acts of repudiation were done to me. On the corner of the Cuban Embassy in Washington (then the Interests Office) there were Cuban counterrevolutionaries who were there all the time and every time we left or entered they told us atrocities, “he recalls.

For Arboleya, these practices of harassment of anti-communist groups based in the United States are comparable to acts of repudiation in Cuba since “they were part of the confrontation” existing between the two countries since the Revolution triumphed on the island in 1959.

“We had a much bigger concern, which was that they would kill us, and in fact there were murders of our diplomats,” he indicates, referring to the hard times of the Cold War, when Cuban officials and citizens were targets of terrorist actions perpetrated by radical anti-Castroism.

In the 1990s, marked by the long and heinous economic crisis of the “special period”, the discontent of many Cubans crystallized in a relatively visible internal opposition to the government.

Thus, the acts of repudiation shifted their focus. “We saw how these actions were recycled and began to be implemented against dissidents and activists of independent Cuban civil society,” explains Dr. Sierra Madero.


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