Lunes, 23 de Julio de 2018
Última actualización: 00:16 CEST

State Security: Who Writes for Whom?

One of the rooms at the Memorial de la Denuncia is dedicated to State terrorism. (C. GARCIA CASAÑAS-CUBADEBATE)

A few weeks ago an anthology was presented in Madrid on the work of Cuba’s State Security forces, I learned that the Museum of the Ministry of the Interior no longer exists in Havana. (I should note here that said anthology contains a text of mine, but here I do not address the content of that collection, but rather the idea that gave rise to its publication.)

Compiled by Enrique del Risco, the compilation contains pieces by 57 authors and takes as its title from the euphemistic phrase with which agents explain their appearances: El compañero que me atiende (The Comrade Who …”; see below)(Hypermedia, Miami, 2017).

The dictionaries define the term atender as esperar oraguardar (to wait for, to await); or to bear in mind; or to take care of something or someone; and, a more specialized meaning refers to following the reading of an original while a proofreader reads the draft versions for publication out loud. That is, the comparison of the printed version vs. the original manuscript.

Having read these meanings, none can be embraced here, as the agents in question avoid giving their phrase a precise meaning, and delay its clarification. When they announce "Soy el compañero que te atiende," they leave the phrase's meaning up in the air, until circumstances force its clarification.

From the methodology of torture employed by the Inquisition we know what the "teaching of instruments" consists of. To announce that "Soy el compañero que te atiende" is to show one’s instruments up front, all this in a collegial, paternalistic tone, without losing sight of the need for this kind of contact. Someone appears, does not give his real name, but another, rarely a surname, is not wearing a uniform, or bearing an ID, and appeals to a contract that we never even knew we had signed, so it must have been in some kind of daze, state of drunkenness or sleep. And from there we must play a game in which every move we make will be judged and controlled, so we must avoid and evade. Applying the most specialized meaning found in the dictionaries, what ensues will be a collation of manuscripts and printed matter in which our fraternal overseer is a member of the political police.

In the case of writers, their attention is all about reviewing what is going to be printed, and it is not just about what can and cannot be published, but rather one party's right to write being imposed on other, as the police impose themselves on the author. These attentive comrades draft reports, write about the writers, and compile files on them. They could almost be considered biographers, busy documenting the smallest details, obsessed with information about the targets of their surveillance.

Able to scrutinize and document those under their watchful eyes, they are, however, are unable to read, and this is one of their key shortcomings. Though they might seem to be astute readers, they never really understand those whom they are dealing with, as they do not really understand literature. Hence the desperation with which they seek out the opinions of writers about other writers, in order to fathom their feelings.

Take this apt example: Stalin'sphone call to Boris Pasternak to verify whether Ósip Mandelstam was indeed a master of the Russian language. Pasternak, taken by surprise, responded with all manner of nuances and intellectual hair-splitting – precisely what should not have been done when replying to a master of life and death. Thus, Mandelstam ended up locked in the Gulag,where he died, and Pasternak would have to endure his remorse for not having been able to answer Stalin properly.

Now it is the surveilled who are surveilling

What I like the most about Enrique del Risco’s El compañero que me atiende is that it inverts the habitual distribution of roles, and in its pages a good group of writers, some even residents on the Island, are the ones writing about the political police. The documented have become the documenters. And they document not just a handful of attentive companions, and all of their ilk, but also the State, and its violence. It is, I believe, an anthology that will help lift the tacit veil of silence between the political police and the writers they watch over, and  the implicit rule that the former may not be mentioned in any text.

As for the Havana museum, that Museum of the Ministry of the Interior that I once visited, on Fifth Avenue and 14 (Miramar), and of which I wrote in my book La fiesta vigilada (Anagrama, Barcelona, ​​2007), was re-established a year ago. My most enduring memory of that facility is that of a stuffed dog: a German shepherd, Dan, of Czechoslovak ancestry, who was the revolutionary police's first canine. Visitors could read his resume, the history of his service, on a placard there. The disgust of walking amidst so much propaganda was mitigated, at certain points, by that German shepherd's ridiculous bio. The visitor wandered through a repugnant present, and suddenly found himself in a future provoking laughter, albeit muted, at that time. In this way the nightmare could be overcome, at times.

That on display in those rooms pointed to a police system whose focus was more abroad than towards the interior of the country, purportedly struggling against international enemies. They referred to their missions, invariably defensive, in other areas. The Museum of the Ministry of the Interior was another variant of that cloying State care, because all the work of its attentive comrades (even its most covert ones) was, it was alleged, carried out so that the writers and other citizens could perform their respective tasks unhindered. That is, the State's agents were the guarantors of our peace as citizens.

A little more than a year ago the authorities must have decided that the concept behind that museum was ineffectual, they must have concluded that it fell short, so they transformed the Museum of the Ministry of the Interior in the Condemnation Museum. That is, they went from the peace the State had been said to assure, to demands for war damages, discarding praise in favor of complaint. And they find no better excuse for all the violations perpetrated by State Security than to blame Washington.

I have written several times about the rich archives that the political police have been amassing for more than half a century, a collection rich in annotations, transcriptions and recordings of the greatest Cuban and foreign cultural figures. They would also be of great utility for the study of daily life over the course of more than half a century. I imagined how useful it would be to salvage those files, and now, seeing how such a large group of writers has embraced the task of writing about State Security, I ponder again the value of all that material, if it were ever made accessible.

I realize that the survival of Castroism's police archives is highly unlikely, but, in the event there are no documents to work with at that time, I suppose there will still be a Condemnation Memorial, formerly the Museum of the Ministry of the Interior and, before that Central Museum of the State Security Agencies. It would, then, be worth conserving, as it would be possible to contextualize it with an abundance of notes, as if it were a critical edition. With this kind of curatorship, the Condemnation Memorial could serve to document the history of what was not only a police and imperialist state, but also the anti-imperialist pretense that it wielded as a shield.