Cuba: Wipe the Slate Clean and Start Over, or Form a Truth Commission?
Posted on August 30, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 11 July 2015 — On a leaden afternoon in 1960 that portended
rain, René, 79 years old, recalls how a half-dozen militia members
encased in wide uniforms and bearing Belgian weapons appeared at his
uncle's house in the peaceful neighborhood of La Víbora to certify the
confiscation of his properties.
"My family owned a milk processing plant that produced white and cream
cheeses. They also owned an apartment house and a country residence. In
two hours they were left with just the house in La Víbora and a car.
Fidel Castro's government confiscated the rest without paying a cent.
Within six months they flew to Miami. Of course, I would view it well if
the Cuban state were to compensate us for that arbitrariness. But I
doubt it. Those people (the regime) have never liked to pay debts,"
says René, who still lives with his children and grandchildren in the
big house that had belonged to his relatives.
The Bearded One's confiscatory hurricane was intense. Residences, works
of art, jewelry, automobiles, industries, stores, businesses and
newspapers were nationalized in the name of Revolutionary Justice.
Later, in 1968, the pyre of expropriations extended to the frita stands,
neighborhood grocery stores, and scissor-sharpening shops. "They'd
arrive with their dog faces and seize everything. Later, the owner of
the little shop would have to sign a form attesting that the surrender
had been voluntary. As far as I know, nobody protested. There was too
much fear," recalls Daniel, formerly the owner of a shoe repair shop.
Roy Schecher, an American born in Cuba, saw his rural property of
5,666 hectares, and a 17-room, colonial-era house in Havana,
expropriated by the government; it is now the residence of the Chinese
Schechter's daughter, Amy Rosoff, told the publication News.com that
when the authorities told her parents that their properties no longer
belonged to them, they escaped from the Island in a ferry, carrying
their hidden jewelry.
Schecter even paid all his employees before leaving, with the hope that
he would return. He spent the rest of his life working in his
father-in-law's shoe store, and reminding his daughter that the lost
properties would one day be reclaimed.
Cases like these number in the thousands. The United States government
alleges that the military autocracy in Cuba owes $7-billion dollars to
former property owners.
Several law firms in the US and Spain expect to wage a legal battle for
their clients to obtain just compensation. Nicolás Gutiérrez, a Florida
resident (but born in Costa Rica after his parents, Nicolás Gutiérrez
Castaño and Aleida Álvarez, were exiled) defends the idea that some day
the families whose properties were expropriated by the Cuban regime will
And it is because Gutiérrez, a lawyer by profession, characterizes
Decree 890, issued on 13 October 1960, as a "theft act" by which the
recently installed government stripped all American companies operating
on the Island of their properties, as well as the Cuban owners of many
So, too, the Gutiérrez family was bereft of their assets, including
several sugar processing plants that were valued then at more than
The Gutiérrez-Castaño family's holdings, which were among the most
affected by the expropriations law, were built on years of work
by Nicolás Castaño Capetillo, a Basque immigrant who arrived in Cuba at
the age of 14 and with barely a third-grade education. When he died in
1926, "he was considered among the wealthiest men in the country,
according to statements by his great-grandson to Iliana Lavastida,
journalist with Diario Las Américas.
While the enterprises of hundreds of families or multinational
corporations such as Coca-Cola or Exxon were confiscated, thousands of
Cubans purged their defiance towards the Castro regime with long prison
Still remaining to be documented is the number of compatriots who were
executed as a result of extremely summary trials, for having utilized
the very same methods to which Fidel Castro resorted during his
confrontation with the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
To be a dissident during the first years of the Revolutionary Government
was a grave crime. Thousands of women and men suffered beatings and
mistreatment in the Island's prisons. The history of Cuban political
imprisonment cannot be forgotten.
Now that the final reel of the Castro brother's saga is rolling, the
subject is once again relevant. What to do? Forget the past, or form a
commission to investigate the arbitrary actions committed by the government?
Much can be learned from the experience of Eastern Europe. In the Spring
of 2013, a conference took place in Miami in which Cubans from both
shores participated, along with dissidents from the old communist Germany.
Reconciliation is not easy, warned Dieter Dettke, professor of the BMW
Center of German and European Studies at Georgetown University, as well
as Günter Nooke, dissident of the old German Democratic Republic (GDR),
and later commissioner of human rights in reunified Germany.
A true rapprochement requires forgiveness as much as justice, but not
revenge, Dettke said, pointing out that following the GDR's collapse,
246 of its top-level functionaries were accused of various abuses.
Around half were declared not guilty.
For reconciliation to happen, "there needs to be a sinner who repents,"
said Nooke, who went on to state that the German government had agreed,
following the reunification, to pay reparations to victims of the STASI,
the GDR's notoriously brutal security apparatus.
It is no use to attempt to turn the page as if nothing had happened. In
its defense, the regime maintains that for reasons of the embargo, the
United States should compensate Cuba with $100-billion dollars.
One might then ask if the olive-green autocracy plans to ask forgiveness
for having lied to the Cuban people. Never was our opinion sought as to
implementing is absurd political, economic and social strategies.
When the storm blows over, Cubans, all of us, should determine how we
will negotiate our future without forgetting the past –keeping in mind
that hatred obscures clarity.
Photo by Gilberto Ante, 17 May 1959, La Plata, Sierra Maestra. In the
country hut of peasant Julián Pérez: Fidel Castro; the economist Oscar
Pinos Santos (seated in a corner, wearing glasses and a watch);
and Antonio Núñez Jiménez, president of the National Institute for
Agrarian Reform (at the left, wearing a beret), among other members of
the Revolutionary Government; giving the final touches to the first
Agrarian Reform Law, which would expropriate the large estates, and
would become the first legal measure of a radical nature enforced by the
bearded ones in power. On 4 October 1963, a second Agrarian Reform Law
was approved, which according to some specialists marked the beginning
of the agricultural disaster of Cuba (TQ).
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Cuba: Wipe the Slate Clean and Start Over, or Form a Truth
Commission? | Translating Cuba -