Cuba: I am not like Che

Chronicle of my dramas with the “ujotacé”

By Lisbeth Moya González

I come from a family of communist militants. My mother, a rural pioneer from the most intricate areas of Villa Clara, joined the ranks of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) at the same age as me: 14 years old. The selection process for her militancy was rigorous. She passed several filters, they were only the best, the impeccable, who formed the ranks of the vanguard organization of Cuban youth. For my grandmother, the day they gave my mother the card meant a step towards honor, towards a status that distinguished her socially. My father, moreover, was a peasant leader of the organization. He even participated in a certain Festival of Youth and Students that took place in Cuba and traveled to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation of young militants, members of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

In my junior high school years, I was a good student. I had won knowledge contests, and already in the 9th grade, I had all the corresponding kisses from the country and the annual mentions of most comprehensive students, but I did not want to be from the UJC. When I told my parents that they were going to give me the card and I didn’t want it, they responded that in their time that was a merit, that they understood my position, but that I should accept because I shouldn’t “mark myself politically.”

My political brand took a while, but it didn’t take long to arrive, and it wasn’t precisely because of dissent within the UJC. There was so much disorganization in that organization that I couldn’t even do it. At 15 years old and with a license in the drawer, I arrived at the pre-university Eduardo René Chibás, from Placetas. I have vague memories of someone asking who was from UJC back then, but frankly, my school’s grassroots committee didn’t exist. I was never summoned to meetings, I never even knew who the person in charge was; it wasn’t a worry that kept me awake either because at that point, my teammates and I didn’t believe in UJC, or the party.

The adolescent image I had of these organizations consisted of repetitive slogans and boys in plaid shirts to whom there was no way I would trust my incipient political concerns because I couldn’t “mark myself politically.” I have reminiscences of the UJC at that stage organizing events in which they called me to be the master of ceremonies because since I was a child I was an announcer for Radio Placetas. I have also not forgotten the act of repudiation that they organized for Antunez, a dissident neighbor. Furthermore, I also remember when from sixth grade they took the most comprehensive students to the La Tatagua camp. Those trips were very pleasant experiences. What does not remain in my mind is that they counted on me for something.

At this point, I wonder why I didn’t approach the organization at that time and try to influence it to participate. At 14 or 15 years old, those who made the Revolution were already in the fight. Why was I, who repeated ad nauseam that I would be like Che, not like him? It was because my teenage head was fed up with empty signifiers: “revolution is the meaning of the historical moment,” “pioneers for communism.” Silvio Rodríguez had already said: “No one knows what communism is, and that can be fodder for censorship.”

I arrived at the Central University of the Villas[1]  with my UJC card dusty in a drawer. Again, they passed by asking who was a member of the organization and I hesitated to answer, but I did. They once called a meeting, but almost no one attended. They chose the secretary of my classroom and since then, I lost track of the ujotacé or the ujotacé lost track of me.

A red sheep lost from the flock

I’m not like Che. Che set the bar high for me. Che was a middle-class man from the sixties, who was able to go around Latin America on a motorcycle. I have never owned a motorcycle, and if I try to take a trip like his as a woman, it is very likely that I will end up being a victim of human trafficking.

The UJC has built its discourse on unattainable paradigms: Mella, Camilo, Che: all three cishetero [2] men. When I got to university I started reading Marx, Engels, Che, Fidel. Then I read Trotsky, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai and later came the post-Marxists and then black and decolonial feminism. None of these authors came from a study circle or on the recommendation of a general secretary, but rather they came from the hand of friends that I made along the way. In that process and in contrast to the nonexistence of the ujotacé I became a communist.

However, back then I still lived in a bubble, well protected by the comfort of my parents’ home. When I moved to Havana, to a neighborhood in Marianao, to a house with a bookcase full of Marxist texts, to an environment of politicized people who were not from the ujotacé, I realized that the political and mass organizations of my country were not communists. And with this sentence, I do not mean that there are no communists within those organizations trying.

I recently read the text: “Between the urgent and the important (or towards the eye of the hurricane)” initially published by the ideological secretary of the UJC at the University of Havana, Josué Benavides, in the Alma Mater Magazine, later censored and republished on the La Tizza blog. Before referring to the text, I will tell you some experiences.

On July 11, 2021, several university students were arrested. Many other young people – militants or members of the ujotacé – denounced the incident and took letters to the Ministry of Higher Education to have them released. The organization and some from the FEU visited those involved and with their hands on their chests told them “I understand you mate, but nothing can be done” or “this is not good for you.” However, the complicity of the senior management of these organizations with the repressive bodies, far from protecting their members, favored the harassment of their family, friends and classmates. This is far from what a revolutionary organization should be.

Currently, communists in Cuba are also censored and persecuted. I, being a communist, had to migrate from a country that calls itself communist because of my ideals. Having an ideology that phonetically resembles that of power does not exempt you from dissenting from it and suffering the consequences. I would even say that, in an authoritarian environment like Cuba’s, speaking in a language similar to that of those who lead makes you a bigger problem for the State. The speech of “those who serve you” begins with “the confused comrade” and ends with “the common mercenary paid by the empire.”

Josué, the secretary of the ujotacé, was censored in Alma Mater, the official magazine par excellence for university students, and which belongs to the UJC’s own publishing house. In that same publication, the then director Armando Franco dared, after much pressure from the university community, to publish “Deudas“, the interview with Leonardo Romero Negrín and Alexander Hall, university students arrested on 11J. Even though the work passed all the filters and was purged of most of the injustices committed to both, despite the skill of Franco and his team, despite the good journalism they were trying to do, said director was reassigned to a new position and almost his entire team went behind him.

In that poorly run community that I like to call “the Cuban critical left” there coexist militants and non-militant of the ujotacé, who invented organizations and blogs that never fully function due to harassment by the Cuban State security and other factors, such as the economic crisis whose solution is migration, in addition to because the world hegemonic powers that usually support the Cuban opposition are not interested in communists either, regardless of their sign.

However, I do bet on the capacity of quite a few young people who are in a kind of fruitful truce right now without stopping thinking and writing about Cuba, although with the possibility of limited action. These young people, militants, are not in the ujotacé, they are leaving the country without giving up their leftist positions, which does not happen with some former ujotaceans, who turn out to be from the most rancid right when they set foot on the plane.

Others of these young people are also in Cuba working very hard, but the ujotacé does not want to “make a political mark” at this point, when the communists are not in the government. In addition to the mea culpa for censuring its ideological secretary in the committee of the University of Havana—which has not arrived and may never arrive—the ujotacé should also discuss in an inclusive and transparent manner with unorganized militancy about the structural causes of the current Cuban sociopolitical model, which cause the problems stated in the text in question. I say this only as a utopian wish because I am not naive, and I know that the same people who censored the text in Alma Mater would purge the dissident flock.

A communist without ujotacé

My greatest pain after migration was not knowing how to face my militancy while outside of Cuba. That was also my biggest uncertainty when leaving. In the air was the transformation of so many who called themselves communists within and that the first supermarket converted them to the opposite faith. On the other hand, the supermarket caused me more questions about the macabre capitalist system I had entered than about the one I left behind.

In my search for alliances and militancy, or at least for people with whom to dialogue, I came across many left-wing organizations. I learned about how they were criminalized and persecuted, and I couldn’t help but draw the parallel with a Cuba that also persecutes dissent. Cuba is Mars, I said at the beginning, but no, Cuba is a country very similar to the world, although the world is not like it.

These organizations showed me their lights and shadows: yes, they can demonstrate, work with the community, be a recognized civil society, but despite being “the dissidents” in their context, and although there are less dogmatic organizations, mostly Trotskyist, who have tried to approach the Cuba issue with a critical vision, others are Stalinists to the core and idealize the Island with a fervor that prevents them from listening to the evils of their political system, even though it comes from the experience of a communist. There I learned that the evils of the ujotacé are not very different from those of part of the foreign left, and my concern is that while we entertain ourselves in doctrine, the supermarket will continue to exercise its magic.

I admire and respect the optimism of militants who have decided to wage war from within and believe in the possibility of reviving a cadaverous organization. I’m really sorry, I’ve seen the movie many times, plus, I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in spiritualism, but in dialogue with the living beings. A dialogue that, to be fruitful, must be on an equal footing and without a gun. When you are a little more like young Cubans in all their diversity and less like Che, call me. There are many of us who are still trying to make the Revolution.

Taken from Jóven Cuba

Universidad Central de las Villas

or “cisgender”