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    Demystifying las UMAP – The Politics of Sugar, Gender, and Religion in 1960s Cuba

    Demystifying las UMAP: The Politics of Sugar, Gender, and Religion in
    1960s Cuba
    Joseph Tahbaz
    ’15 History major
    Dartmouth College

    Abstract: The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción,
    were forced-work agricultural labor camps operated by the Cuban
    government during the mid-1960s in the east-central province of
    Camagüey. The current academic literature on the UMAP camps has
    exclusively taken into account homosexual internees’ experiences and has
    characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing. This
    paper will argue:
    1) the UMAP was an integral component of the Cuban Revolution’s larger
    economic, social, and political goals,
    2) the experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees cannot be
    generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative, and
    3) although gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the camps,
    Jehovah’s Witnesses were the victims of the worst brutality at the UMAP.

    Keywords: Cuba, UMAP, forced labor, gender, race, homosexuality,
    Jehovah’s Witnesses

    The only third-party testimony of the UMAP camps comes from Canadian
    journalist Paul Kidd, who was expelled from Cuba on September 8, 1966.1
    The Cuban Foreign Ministry alleged that Kidd had written articles
    critical of the Cuban Revolution and had taken photos of anti-aircraft
    guns visible from his Havana hotel room window.2 Paul Kidd had just
    returned from an unauthorized trip to Camagüey, where he “had the unique
    experience … of tracking down a forced-labor camp hidden in the lush
    sugar fields of central Cuba” (Kidd 1969, 24). What Paul Kidd chanced
    upon were the “camps … known simply as UMAP” (24).

    For nearly half a century, historians have almost entirely omitted the
    UMAP camps from Cuban history while Cuban exiles have denounced the UMAP
    as concentration camps.3 The current, scarce literature on the UMAP
    camps has exclusively incorporated homosexual internees’ experiences and
    has characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing.4
    This article argues that the UMAP was not a fringe of revolutionary
    policy aimed at a sliver of the population, but an integral and
    multifaceted component of the Cuban Revolution’s economic, social, and
    political aspirations. Firstly, the UMAP was a means of repressing
    insufficiently revolucionario5 elements of civil society, such as
    religious groups and secret societies. Secondly, the UMAP constituted
    the extreme fringe of a nuanced spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor that
    was central to the Revolution’s economic goals. Thirdly, the UMAP sought
    to “correct” those who exhibited a revolutionarily improper masculinity
    and discriminated against not only homosexuals, but also Afro-Cubans.
    Finally, while gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the
    camps, history ought to remember Jehovah’s Witnesses as the victims of
    the worst brutality at the UMAP camps. At the same time, however, the
    experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees – ranging from
    Catholic priests to los hippies, as well as artists and intellectuals –
    cannot be generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative.
    Instead, the UMAP camps performed many different functions and held many
    different meanings. Because a topic of this nature is nearly impossible
    to study in Cuba, the arguments put forth in this article draw upon
    sources such as Cuban newspapers, memoirs of the camps, and interviews
    with former internees.

    The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, were
    agricultural forced-work camps operated by the Cuban government between
    November 1965 and July 1968 in the east-central province of Camagüey.6
    Two years before the first internees were sent to UMAP camps, the Cuban
    government published Law 1129, which established a three-year SMO –
    Servicio Militar Obligatorio (Obligatory Military Service).7 Under the
    pretense of the SMO, those considered unfit for the regular military
    service were sent to the UMAP camps. Two former Cuban intelligence
    agents have both estimated that of approximately 35,000 UMAP internees,8
    about 500 ended up in psychiatric wards, 70 died from torture, and 180
    committed suicide (Fuentes 300–3; Vivés 238). The persons most
    frequently interned at the camps were religiosos (religious zealots) and
    gay men.9 The large swath of internees included Jehovah’s Witnesses (Ros
    191), Seventh Day Adventists (Blanco 73), Catholics (Cardenal 293),
    Baptists (Muñoz; Blanco 73), Methodists (Yglesias 295), Pentecostals
    (Blanco 87), Episcopalians (Blanco 73), practitioners of Santería
    (Santiago), Abakuá members (Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera
    164), Gideon members (“Unidades,” 8), those suspected of intending to
    flee the country (Cabrera 12; Blanco 34, 67; Ros 47), priests (Ros 62),
    artists (Guerra 2010, 268), intellectuals (Guerra 2010, 268),
    ideologically nonconforming university students (Blanco 66; Ros 122),
    lesbians (Guerra 2012, 254), los hippies (Improper Conduct; Cabrera 55),
    marihuaneros (potheads) (Muñoz), drug addicts (Yglesias 299), political
    prisoners (Santiago), government officials accused of corruption (Llovio
    160), criminals (Ros 152; Former), prostitutes (Guerra 2012, 254;
    Garinger 7; Martínez 70–71), pimps (Yglesias 299), farmers who refused
    collectivization (Fuentes 300–3), persons who worked for themselves
    illegally (Fuentes 300–3), vagos (deadbeats) (Blanco 2013), and anyone
    else considered “anti-social” or “counter-revolutionary.” With no single
    group forming the majority, the term “UMAP internee” represents a
    decidedly plural collective.

    The UMAP was no state secret. In a roaring March 1966 speech delivered
    on the escalinata (large stairway) of the University of Havana, Fidel
    Castro remarked “some have to go to the SMO; some have to go to la UMAP,
    Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción” (Castro 1966). In 1966 and
    1967, at least a dozen different articles in the Cuban press referenced
    the UMAP camps, complete with photos of lush sugarcane fields and
    interviews with cheerful internees.10

    The two main recogidas (round-ups) of UMAP internees occurred in
    November 1965 and June 1966 (Ros 146, 151). The Comités de Defensa de la
    Revolución (CDR) – a nationwide government organization located on every
    block – was mainly responsible for informing the military who were
    destined for the UMAP camps (Yglesias 27, 275; Blanco 72; Lumsden 67;
    Santiago). Most individuals were taken to the camps through a false
    notice to appear for military service (Santiago; Ros 52, 79, 94, 101,
    141). Individuals would receive a telegram with a notice to appear for
    SMO at locations such as sports stadiums (Ros 37, 73; Cabrera 37).
    Instead of being transferred to an SMO military camp, these individuals
    were transported by train, truck, or bus to UMAP agricultural
    forced-work camps in Camagüey (Ros 15). Conditions on the eight-hour
    trip across the island were often very poor, with many internees
    deprived of clean water and food (Cabrera 45; Ros 72–75). Often provided
    no stops and no facilities on the ride, they had to relieve themselves
    within the passenger compartment of the train or bus (Cabrera 45;
    Santiago; Ros 72–75; Improper Conduct). Alternatively, instead of
    receiving a false SMO notice, many individuals were directly rounded up
    off the streets into buses and shipped to UMAP camps (Improper Conduct;
    Martínez 66; Llovio 156). This selection method was reserved for gay men
    and antisociales (anti-socials) such as los hippies. Former UMAP
    internee and Ministerio del Interior (MININT) informer José Luis
    Llovio-Menéndez wrote in his memoir that “MININT officers would patrol
    known homosexual gathering places … they rounded up anyone who looked
    like a homosexual and shipped these people off to UMAP” (156). According
    to Cuban propaganda at the time, homosexuality looked like tight pants,
    dark sunglasses, and sandals.11

    Each UMAP camp typically held 120 men12 split into three compañías
    (companies) of 40 internees further divided into squads of 10 (Ros
    34).The number of internees could vary considerably, however, and some
    camps held several hundred internees (Cabrera 245; Former). A typical
    camp was a few hundred meters long and about one hundred fifty meters
    wide and had three barracks, two for internees and one for military
    personnel (Former; Sanger; Muñoz). The camps were surrounded by a 10
    feet tall barbed-wire fence and had no running water or electricity
    (Cardenal 294; Cabrera 54; Blanco 47; Ros 10; Muñoz; Sanger). Camp
    brigades were given revolucionario names such as “Vietnam Heroico,”
    “Mártires de Girón,” and “Héroes del Granma.”13 Most camps had bunk beds
    with jute sacks slung between wooden beams for mattresses (Kidd 1969,
    25; Cabrera 50; Former). Some camps had hammocks (Cabrera 53) or no beds
    at all (Ros 84) and a few provided actual mattresses (Cabrera 167). The
    UMAP uniform consisted of verde olivo (olive green) or dark blue pants,
    a long-sleeve light blue denim shirt, and military boots (Ros 95;
    Yglesias 278; Cabrera 53; Blanco 47; Llovio 147; Muñoz). As each camp
    held roughly one hundred individuals and there were tens of thousands of
    internees, hundreds of UMAP camps were scattered throughout Camagüey
    (Kidd 1969, 24).

    The internees were often divided by category (Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay
    men, Catholics, etc.) en route to the camps (Ros 24, 55). Each internee
    was called by a number which was assigned to them upon arriving at the
    camps (Santiago; Cabrera 61; Muñoz). In general, there were two types of
    camps: camps only for gay men and camps for everyone else (Ros 55, 87;
    Former; Llovio 156). Even while gay men were temporarily stationed at
    the camps for general internees, they were sometimes assigned to a
    separate platoon for homosexuals (Cabrera 58; Viera). To transfer
    internees to camps for homosexuals, the guards would call the entire
    camp to assemble and publicly select those who would be transferred (Ros
    176). That the military actively segregated gay men not only from
    society but also from within the camps demonstrates just how preoccupied
    the government was with curbing the “diffusion” of homosexuality.

    Internees performed a variety of agricultural tasks, ranging from
    picking boniato (sweet potato), yucca, and fruit to tearing down
    marabú,14 applying fertilizer, and weeding. Nonetheless, internees were
    primarily engaged in planting and harvesting sugar cane (Ros 131–32;
    Blanco 100; Bejel 100). Both SMO recruits and UMAP internees received an
    equally meager salary: seven pesos a month – exactly one-tenth of the
    state’s monthly minimum wage in agriculture at the time (Ros 31;
    Mesa-Lago 1981, 147; Kidd 1969, 24). Internees worked Monday through
    Saturday and sometimes had to perform what was called trabajo voluntario
    (volunteer work) on Sundays, which consisted of more agricultural labor,
    but without any production quotas (Former; Blanco 100–101). Otherwise,
    Sundays were spent resting and doing activities such as washing clothes
    and writing letters to family members (Blanco 100, 104). The camp
    político15 gave internees daily talks about current events and communist
    ideology, with longer sessions on Sundays (Kidd 1969, 24; Blanco 53;
    Former). Certain internees were released early in 1967 while others
    stayed longer, but in general they were held at the camps for about
    two-and-a-half years, i.e., until the dissolution of the camps in 1968
    (Llovio 172–3; Yglesias 294; Former; Ronet 55).

    The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not killing or torturing
    civilians, but exploiting the labor of Cuba’s supposed degenerates. The
    experiences and conditions in the UMAP varied widely, but the one
    constant among all the testimony is the inhumane number of hours these
    internees were forced to work. One internee recalled that each worker’s
    daily quota for cutting sugar cane ranged between 18 and 24 cordeles
    lineales, which is between 366 meters and 488 meters of cane.16 On
    average, internees worked about 60 hours a week, but some internees have
    reported working even more, at 12 hours a day, six days a week (Blanco
    100; Cardenal 294; Kidd 1969, 24): “during the zafra [sugar harvest], we
    would get up earlier, sometimes at four … we worked nonstop until lunch
    … a few minutes of rest and we returned to cutting sugar cane until
    dusk” (Muñoz). Llovio-Menéndez wrote that the work schedule at one camp
    during the zafra began at 4:30 AM and ended at 7:00 PM with one 15
    minute break at 10:00 AM and two hours allotted for lunch (147). Working
    hours were longest during the zafra, which typically lasted from January
    to April, but due to labor shortages in the 1960s was lengthened from
    November to June (Pérez 236). For essentially half of the year, UMAP
    internees were forced to cut sugar cane from sunrise to sunset six days
    a week.

    Certain internees were granted passes to leave the camps for lengths of
    time ranging from one afternoon up to ten days (Cabrera 153–55, 176,
    179, 203; Muñoz; Viera). Typically, they were only permitted to visit a
    neighboring town or village, but sometimes they could go as far as
    Havana. Internees were also given a week to spend with their families
    for Christmas vacation and the New Year (Cabrera 228; Blanco 123;
    “Vacaciones,” 1966). For all of these trips, internees had to pay for
    their own transportation (Blanco 124). Internees could also write and
    receive letters and even receive packages, but all correspondence was
    censored (Santiago; Cabrera 87–88). After three to six months in the
    camps, internees were usually allowed to receive visits by family
    members on one designated Sunday out of the month (Sanger; Blanco 91,
    108; Former; Kidd 1969, 24). Family visits were supervised and internees
    could not exchange uninspected documents with family members, but they
    were allowed to bring internees items such as cigarettes or food (Kidd
    1969, 24; Cabrera 112). Family visits were held at an off-site location
    where family members were allowed to take photos with the internees
    (Blanco 109; Muñoz). To maintain the illusion that the UMAP camps were
    part of the standard SMO, the recruits wore a special uniform and
    marched in unison for family visits (Cabrera 109; Muñoz). Besides family
    visits, Catholic priests and Catholic youth occasionally visited
    internees and even administered the Eucharist (Cabrera 136–37; Ros 185).
    These visitation privileges demonstrate how the conditions at the UMAP
    differed in some measure from what one would typically expect at
    forced-work camps.

    Many internees have reported that the quality and quantity of food in
    the camps was very poor. One internee, who claimed to have gone from 170
    to 120 pounds by his first family visit, remembered that at his camp
    they ate stray cats, hens, and snakes they captured while working in the
    fields (Blanco 108, 134). To the contrary, one former UMAP internee
    claimed that “there was enough food … we ate lots of canned meat,
    sardines, condensed milk; there was milk, rice, beans, there was plenty”
    (Former). Although internees generally were not starved, internees did
    not receive food if they had not completed their production quota for
    the day (Former; Blanco 57). One reason for the scarcity of food was
    that military officials would hoard foodstuffs for their personal use or
    sell them to guajiros (people from the countryside) (Ros 166–68; Blanco
    83). Water deprivation was another form of mistreatment (Blanco 55).
    Former internee René Cabrera wrote in his memoir that at one camp they
    were allotted just three glasses of water a day while they spent all day
    outside in the sun cutting sugar cane (138). As a result, internees had
    to drink contaminated water they found accumulated in the fields
    (Cabrera 144; Blanco 55). Internees were granted access to medical
    treatment and when necessary were transferred to military hospitals for
    illness. Still, the denial of treatment by arbitrary camp guards
    resulted in the deaths of some internees (Blanco 70–72, 115–22; Ros

    There are many reports of physical abuse at the camps, especially
    directed towards testigos de Jehová (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Former
    internees have reported Jehovah’s Witnesses being beaten, threatened
    with execution, stuffed with dirt in their mouths, buried in the ground
    up to their necks, deprived of food or water, forced to stand in
    latrines with waste water, and tied up naked outside in barbed wire
    without food or water until fainting (Ros 80, 101, 112, 193; Cabrera 63,
    71, 197; Former). Llovio, who was sent to the UMAP camps for over a year
    from early 1966 to June 1967 for accusations of corruption and later
    became a camp doctor, witnessed first-hand the physical abuse some
    internees received (Llovio 159, 160, 167). At one camp, Llovio saw a
    young Jehovah’s Witness hung by his hands from the top of a flagpole.
    Llovio lowered the man and treated his hands, which he described as “raw
    and bloody … numb and purplish” (153–54). For one afternoon, Llovio was
    sent to provide medical care to the Malesar unit, a camp for
    homosexuals. There, Llovio described the physical condition of the
    internees as “deplorable” (157). As a doctor, he treated patients whose
    bodies were covered with insect bites and others who had bruises left
    over from beatings. The internees Llovio treated at the homosexual camp
    told him that many of their privileges, such as receiving visitors and
    mail, would be arbitrarily suspended. In addition, the camp guards
    practiced a wide range of abuses: forcing internees to work past sunset,
    sending ill internees to work, regularly beating internees while
    working, forcing internees to stand at attention all day in the sun, and
    making internees stand naked in ditches of camp sewage (Llovio 157,
    158). Many camps even had designated punishment cells (Improper Conduct;
    Viera; Santiago). For a respite from the camps, many internees mutilated
    themselves so they could be transferred to a hospital (Ros 205–8;
    Cabrera 192; Blanco 57–58). There also exist accounts of suicide at the
    camps. A Catholic internee reported that he saw a gay man hang himself
    in the UMAP camps (Cardenal 293). Former internee José Blanco, who was
    transferred from the regular SMO to the UMAP for admitting that he
    considered the possibility of emigrating from Cuba, also recalled cases
    of internees committing suicide in camps not for homosexuals (34, 139).

    Former internees have generally described the camp guards as arbitrary,
    abusive, and incompetent, but there were exceptions (Former; Blanco 52;
    Cabrera 141, 157). One former internee recalled Lieutenant Falcón, who
    had been transferred to the UMAP camps after a dispute with a superior,
    as a man who was “competent” and “respected everyone and was respected
    by everyone” (Ros 88). René Cabrera developed a friendship with one
    guard, who asked Cabrera to teach him how to read and even confessed
    that he was ashamed of the abuses at the camps (Cabrera 185, 210). As
    former internee Alberto Muñoz explained:

    Of the officials … there were all types of persons. Some treated us with
    respect and consideration. Others certainly admired us and did not fail
    to show it. With many of them, we gained friendship. In many
    circumstances we had officials who helped us and avoided committing
    injustices … but there were also others who acted without the least bit
    of sensitivity, making it difficult for us to find any human feelings in
    With hundreds of different camps scattered throughout Camagüey,
    conditions could range significantly in terms of the quality of food,
    beds, and the abusiveness of the guards (Cabrera 167, 169). Conditions
    in the camps also changed over time. Several internees have reported
    that the quality of the camp food improved and the height of the
    barbed-wire fences was substantially reduced after mid-1966 (Cabrera
    167, 169; Viera; Blanco 2013; Muñoz).

    If former Cuban intelligence agents’ statistics are correct,
    approximately 0.75 percent of internees died as a result of the
    conditions they endured in the camps. This would mean that there was
    roughly one death or suicide at each UMAP camp during a course of
    two-and-a-half years. Although the conditions at the UMAP were brutally
    inhumane, these figures also reveal that life-threatening torture was
    not systematically practiced at the camps. The UMAP camps were a huge
    tragedy, but they were not quite “Cuba’s concentration camps.” Sadly,
    Cuba already experienced this phenomenon during the Cuban War of
    Independence in 1896 when the Spanish government gathered about half a
    million civilians into camps called reconcentrados. As a result of the
    insurgents and counterinsurgents’ mutual strategies of pillage and
    destruction, approximately 10 percent of Cuba’s entire population
    perished in the makeshift reconcentrados (Tone 192–224). Unlike their
    nineteenth-century forebears, however, UMAP internees were not literally
    left to die. The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not to kill
    civilians, but to exploit the labor of Cuba’s lacra social (scum of
    society) – without any concern for what the human cost might be.

    Labor, Economics, and Sugar
    In revolutionary 1960s Cuba, there existed a wide spectrum of unpaid
    labor funneled toward the state ranging from trabajo voluntario to
    coerced labor by political prisoners. Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago
    divides state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba into five categories:
    overtime in the workplace, work through the Federación de Mujeres
    Cubanas (FMC), socialist education in the escuelas de campo17 and the
    university, SMO, and “rehabilitative work” performed by political
    prisoners (Mesa-Lago 1969, 340). The UMAP camps lie somewhere on the
    extreme fringe of this spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor.

    The UMAP camps were indeed forced-work camps, but to properly
    contextualize the UMAP camps it must be emphasized that state-sponsored
    unpaid labor was not the exception but the norm in 1960s Cuba. In 1967,
    state-sponsored unpaid labor constituted between 8 to 12 percent of the
    labor force and between 1962 and 1967 totaled approximately 1.4 percent
    of the national income (Mesa-Lago 1969, 354–55). During these years,
    approximately one-third of state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba was
    coordinated through the workplace, 45 percent through the military, 10
    percent through students, 10 percent through the penitentiary system,
    and about 2 percent through the FMC (340, 354–55). As early as 1960, the
    government “reeducated” un-revolutionary Cubans at a work camp in
    Guanahacabibes.18 Revolutionary theory, meanwhile, both elevated the
    value of labor and laid down the ideological justifications for Cuba’s
    new labor regime.19

    During the years of the UMAP, trabajo voluntario was widely employed in
    the sugar harvests. According to government publications, over 57,000
    unpaid workers participated in the 1965 zafra and over 71,000 in the
    1966 zafra (Mesa-Lago 1969, 346). The source does not specify whether
    this figure included UMAP internees, but since internees received a
    monthly salary the figure most likely only referred to “volunteers.” For
    the 1967 zafra, a third of these “volunteers” were recruited from the
    services sector and another third from the construction sector, two
    industries which at the time were overemploying migrants from el
    interior (inland Cuba) (346). The use of trabajo voluntario to offset
    economic imbalances in the labor market reveals how revolutionary
    economic policies had both ushered in new opportunities for campesinos
    (people from the countryside) and resulted in acute agricultural labor
    shortages. For the 1963 zafra, the Comisión Nacional Azucarera estimated
    that 352,000 cane cutters were needed, but only 260,000 were available
    (Pérez 59). The number of professional sugarcane cutters declined from
    370,000 in 1958 to just 160,000 in 1964 – a decline of over 60 percent
    (59). “How should this problem be solved?” asked one UMAP article from
    the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR) publication Verde Olivo in
    reference to Camagüey’s acute zafra labor shortages (“¿Qué es la UMAP?”
    1967). The government’s answer to this daunting economic challenge was
    the UMAP.

    A range of structural changes in the Cuban economy contributed to Cuba’s
    severe agricultural labor shortage. During the 1960s, the labor force
    participation rate actually declined because of the emigration of
    working-age Cubans, higher school enrollment rates, and liberalized
    retirement laws (Mesa-Lago 1981, 188). In addition, Cuba was witnessing
    an internal migration from el interior to urban centers. Havana’s
    population grew 4.4 percent annually in 1960 and 1961, and 2.1 percent
    in 1964 (128). Migrants from el interior found jobs in the army, state
    security, police, mass state organizations, and bureaucracy (125). These
    new urban residents filled the some 400,000 jobs which were added in the
    services sector – mostly in the army and social-services administration
    – between 1958 and 1964 (114). Agricultural workers who previously faced
    seasonal unemployment due to the economic swings of the zafra now found
    stable, yearlong employment through state farms and a guaranteed minimum
    wage (125). Seasonal unemployment in agriculture had been virtually
    eliminated by rural migration, guaranteed jobs, and overstaffing in
    state farms (189). Accompanying these sweeping economic reforms was
    lower productivity. A survey of 136 state farms in 1963 found that
    employees worked 4.5 to 5 hours a day on average, but still received pay
    for 8 hours (125). Lower productivity meant that yet more people had to
    be hired to achieve production goals, thereby worsening the labor
    shortage even more in a vicious, compounding cycle. Mesa-Lago estimates
    that the overall productivity of the agricultural sector in 1965 was
    just 78 percent of 1962 productivity levels. By 1965, the productivity
    of the industrial sector had declined almost 10 percent since 1962
    (134). To make matters worse, Cuba was also witnessing alarming rates of
    worker absenteeism (47–49, 157).

    Internal migration, overemployment in the urban job market, newfound
    economic security for farmers, lower productivity and worker absenteeism
    – all of these interlocking factors compounded into a severe shortage of
    labor in agriculture. Absent the societal structures of slavery or
    capitalism harnessing and exploiting individuals, apparently no one
    wanted to cut sugar cane. In turn, the state took on the role of
    coercing its citizens to perform labor through the mobilization of
    “volunteers,” soldiers, and political prisoners. The astounding
    inefficiency of trabajo voluntario, however, meant that it could not
    resolve Cuba’s economic woes. For the 1964 coffee harvest, university
    student volunteers picked coffee one-fifth as efficiently as salaried
    workers (Mesa-Lago 1969, 351). In the 1962–1965 sugar harvests, unpaid
    workers cut less than one ton of sugar cane per day while skilled
    workers chopped down two to three times that amount (351). Consequently,
    the production efficiency of the 1967 sugar harvest was a staggering 22
    percent below that of the 1957 harvest (351).

    As a result, the Revolution’s economic policies were taking a serious
    hit on the island’s most lucrative resource: sugar. Paramount to Cuba’s
    entire history, sugar also played a leading role in the history of the
    UMAP. When the Revolution’s lavish industrialization plans and efforts
    to diversify agriculture failed to materialize, Cuba’s leaders turned to
    sugar to move the country forward (Pérez 12–13). In 1963, the Cuban
    government developed the Prospective Sugar Industry Plan, which between
    1965 and 1970 would implement a series of aggressive development
    policies: increasing land dedicated to sugarcane cultivation by 50
    percent, planting higher-yield varieties of sugar cane, and setting a
    production target of 10 million tons of sugar by 1970 (12–13). The
    increased income from sugar sales would help Cuba pay off debts to the
    Soviet Union and buy the capital goods needed for industrialization
    (12–13). Essential to the success of this plan was economic cooperation
    with the Soviet Union. In January 1964, Fidel Castro traveled to Moscow,
    where he signed a sugar trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Cuba was
    to deliver 24 million tons of sugar between 1965 and 1970 at a price of
    6.114 cents per pound – well above world market prices during the late
    1960s (Pérez 140, 143; Brunner 55). The income gained from record sugar
    harvests and guaranteed prices would finance massive, state-sponsored
    industrialization that would fuel the economic growth which would
    finally land Cuba into communist paradise (Pérez 12–13). The only thing
    standing between Cuba’s ambitions and the Prospective Sugar Industry
    Plan was a labor force to actually cut the cane. The UMAP was that key
    stepping stone to the prosperous communist future which Cuba’s leaders
    were promising.

    Throughout the early 1960s, the Cuban Revolution had been fighting to
    secure its existence, dealing with the threat of a US invasion and
    suppressing thousands of armed counterrevolutionaries in rural Cuba
    (Domínguez 1978, 345–46). By 1965, after having finally secured the
    Revolution and holding well over 20,000 political prisoners, the state
    now proceeded to neutralize those considered potential long-term threats
    (253–54). Although technically part of the military, the UMAP was not
    designed to tranquilize external, violent enemies but internal, latent
    threats: namely, homosexuals and members of civil society whose
    loyalties were not wholly dedicated to the Revolution. Unique in that it
    targeted not Cubans actively against the regime but Cubans deemed
    insufficiently revolucionario, the UMAP camps were the pinnacle of
    revolutionary Cuba’s repressive, authoritarian policies.

    Internees were not sent to the UMAP only because they were religiosos or
    homosexuals. There existed gay Cuban men whose sexuality was an open
    secret but were never sent to the camps.20 A Cuban was interned at the
    UMAP because they were not adequately integrated into the Revolution and
    their membership in a particular social category was enough to render
    them contrarrevolucionario (counter-revolutionary) and thereby justify
    their internment. The UMAP was as much about political repression as it
    was about bigotry.

    Achieving security, however, meant paying for a massive, costly
    military. In 1963, there were 300,000 soldiers in the military – 10
    times as many as in 1958 – and military expenditures accounted for 6.5
    percent of the national income (Domínguez 1976, 322). After the
    campesino uprisings were finally extinguished in 1965, the military
    sought to find economic relevance and professionalize its forces, many
    of which were inexperienced or not formally trained (324). There was no
    role for the many uneducated or illiterate veterans in the plans for a
    modern army. Instead, many of these officers were transferred to the
    UMAP camps as a sort of demotion (Llovio 143). As a result, many of the
    military personnel assigned to the UMAP camps were illiterate or
    functionally illiterate veterans of the 1959 Revolution (Ros 45–46;
    Domínguez 1976, 324; Yglesias 280). As a March 1966 article from Verde
    Olivo entitled “¿Qué es la UMAP?” explained, the personnel at the camps
    were “old members of the Rebel Army” of “intermediate level” and “almost
    all of peasant background,” which prepared them for “the difficulties
    and characteristics of agricultural work.” The labor harvested through
    the SMO would also reduce the economic burden of the military. Promoting
    the three-year SMO, Raúl Castro elaborated on the military’s economic
    mission in a 1963 government meeting, “If we only want an army, we can
    have [the draftees] for two years … [but] because the armed forces
    should help in the nation’s economy … [we intend to make] the burden of
    military expenditures on our people a bit lighter … we must work as part
    of our service, especially in the sugar harvest” (Domínguez 1976, 324).

    By neutralizing perceived potential contrarrevolucionarios, creating a
    dumping ground for FAR personnel who did not meet the standards of the
    modernizing military, and contributing to agricultural production and
    thereby reducing the economic costs of the ballooning military, the UMAP
    camps simultaneously helped accomplish three distinct goals all
    essential to the military’s transition to a professionalized, newly
    relevant institution. In this respect, the UMAP was a highly strategic
    move by the Cuban military.

    Testigos de Jehová
    Those interned on grounds of their religious activity probably made up
    the largest proportion of UMAP internees, and of them, Jehovah’s
    Witnesses were the most severely abused.21 Young, active Catholics were
    frequently sent to the UMAP camps and their experiences are very well
    represented in the body of published testimony. However, Catholics
    comprised just a small fraction of UMAP internees. One Catholic former
    internee estimated that just 2,000 Catholics were interned out of a
    total of 35,000 internees – just over 5 percent (Cardenal 293).
    Protestant religions and sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses22 were viewed
    as especially counter-revolutionary because of their historical and
    allegedly treasonous connections with the norteamericanos (North
    Americans, esp. from the United States). On March 13, 1963, in front of
    the University of Havana, Fidel Castro gave a speech where he condemned
    the “pseudo-religiosos” whom he called batiblancos: “there are three
    principal sects, which are instruments of today’s imperialism, they are:
    Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gideons International, and Pentecostals.”23 Later
    in the speech, he claimed that “these sects … are directly headed by the
    United States … and they are used as agents of the CIA, State
    Department, and Yankee policy” (Castro 1963). Since many Protestant
    religions in Cuba originated from the United States and many still had
    ties with the US, these sects were perceived as un-Cuban and potentially
    contrarrevolucionario (Rosado 88, 93, 95, 134–35, 145). In addition, the
    resolutely apolitical stance of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which motivates
    their resistance to practices ranging from saluting the flag to
    fulfilling draft requirements, rendered them the pariah of the
    boisterously patriotic and authoritarian Cuban Revolution (Yero 24).
    When resistance met resistance at the camps, some of the very worst
    abuses unfolded.

    In 1938, there were only about one hundred Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cuba.
    By 1947, that number had grown to 4,000 and by 1965 there were nearly
    20,000 – making them one of the largest organized religions on the
    island (Aguirre and Alston 171; Rosado 194). In 1962, the Ministry of
    Communication banned the import of Jehovah’s Witness religious
    literature and prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from using mail for
    distributing religious materials (Aguirre and Alston 190). In 1963,
    foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses were expelled from Cuba, just one year after
    over one hundred Catholic priests had been banished from the island
    (Aguirre and Alston 190; Treto 45). That same year, hundreds of
    Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested for assembling without having obtained
    a permit from their CDR and hundreds more on account of their
    proselytizing activities (Calzon 14; Aguirre and Alston 191). In Pinar
    del Río, nearly every Kingdom Hall was shut down and its property
    confiscated (Aguirre and Alston 191). In the late 1960s, when there were
    incidents of Kingdom Halls and other meeting places being attacked by
    mobs with stone, brick, and iron, the government refused to prosecute
    the perpetrators (Calzon 14). Numerous propaganda pieces produced by
    Granma (Cuba’s state newspaper) and Verde Olivo between 1965 and 1968
    stressed the presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the UMAP camps, complete
    with photos and personal interviews.24 Conversely, of the 11 Verde Olivo
    and Granma articles which reference the UMAP camps, not a single one
    mentions homosexuals. Since the purpose of the propaganda was to combat
    the camps’ poor reputation, representations of gays had to be excluded.

    There does not exist any testimony from testigos in the UMAP camps; all
    information about their experiences comes from the eyewitness testimony
    of other internees. This is not because these former testigo internees
    are unknown or have all passed away. Rather, testigos de Jehová have
    been extremely hesitant to share their experiences with those who will
    publish their testimony. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly,
    upon religious principles Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to shy away from
    anything that even remotely relates to government or politics. Secondly,
    because conditions for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cuba have begun to improve
    over the past two decades, testigos in the Cuban-exile community do not
    wish to publicize any criticisms of the Cuban government which may put
    these meager religious liberties at risk.25 Finally, the highly
    traumatic experiences of many testigos make it emotionally challenging
    for these former internees to open up to outsiders. Jehovah’s Witnesses
    were by far the most abused at the camps (Viera). As former internee
    Héctor Santiago, who was sent to camps for gay men, emphasized:

    With us, they were terrible, but let me tell you the truth, they treat
    you like a lady compared to the testigos de Jehová. Oh my god, they
    really, really were terrible with them, terrible. The things that they
    did to them … horrible, horrible.
    Former internee René Cabrera, who was interned for his Catholic
    activities, corroborated in his memoir, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses, as
    always, were the principal victims of the government’s intention of
    those crimes” (97).

    Testigos de Jehová were not permitted to receive family visits, were not
    granted passes to leave the camps, and did not receive packages or
    letters (Cabrera 88, 113; Muñoz). In one instance, a camp guard did not
    allow a testigo to see his mother who had come to visit him because he
    refused to put on the verde olivo pants which had to be worn for family
    visits (Muñoz). When first transferred to the camps, many Jehovah’s
    Witnesses refused to participate in any camp activities and many refused
    to even wear the camp uniform (Former; Cabrera 59; Muñoz; Blanco 86).
    Testigos faced severe punishments for their non-participation, such as
    beatings, being buried in the ground up to their necks, or being forced
    to stand outside for hours until fainting (Blanco 86; Ros 101, 112, 194;
    Cabrera 59–60). However, most Jehovah’s Witnesses began to participate
    in camp activities and work after the great deal of coercion they faced
    (Cabrera 74). Less strict guards did not force testigos to wear the UMAP
    uniform (Former).

    Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced a variety of tortures in the UMAP camps.
    In addition to the practices explained earlier, at some camps a guard
    would take individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to wear the UMAP
    uniform out into the fields and fire a pistol, pretending to shoot them
    while the others were still in earshot. After faking this execution, the
    guard would return to the camp and select another Jehovah’s Witness who
    refused to put on the uniform. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
    memoir that he did not see even one testigo concede to wear the uniform
    in the face of these simulated executions (87). Another common
    punishment was forcing testigos to stand in latrines filled with
    excrement up to the waist or chest (Blanco 86; Former). At some camps,
    guards forced Jehovah’s Witnesses to scoop the sewage from camp ditches
    with their bare hands (Blanco 86).

    The Cuban government justifies its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by
    claiming that the sect was part of a scheme orchestrated by the CIA. For
    example, in January 1963, the Cuban government released a statement
    announcing that it had sabotaged a CIA spy network based in Oriente
    province, where they claimed to have found “a large quantity of buried
    weapons … 36,000 Cuban pesos and some Jehovah’s Witnesses’ prayer books”
    (“Broke CIA Spy Ring,” 1963). In a 1985 interview, Fidel Castro remarked
    that “Jehovah’s Witnesses cause problems everywhere … we were highly
    sensitive. Threatened by the United States, we needed to apply a strong
    defense policy – and we found ourselves faced with a doctrine that
    opposed conscription. We didn’t have any trouble over beliefs; rather,
    all our problems were over ideas – and you don’t know whether they’re
    religious or political” (Borge 186–87).

    Seventh Day Adventists
    Seventh Day Adventists had a unique relationship with the Revolution and
    represent a very different relationship with the UMAP than other
    religious minorities. In 1956, there were nearly 5,000 Seventh Day
    Adventists in Cuba, with more than half located on the more rural,
    eastern end of the island. Oriente, the province where Castro began his
    uprising, was also the province with the most Seventh Day Adventists
    (Rosado 169). In Oriente, one family of Adventists gave food and shelter
    to a band of revolutionaries who were fighting dictator Fulgencio
    Batista. Seeing that one of the men had no shirt because he had used it
    as a bandage to protect a wound, the father of the household, Argelio
    Rosabal, gave the revolutionary his only shirt. That wounded
    revolutionary – Ernesto “Che” Guevara – was so moved by the man’s
    generosity that Che promised them the construction of a chapel in the
    future (which was indeed constructed) (172–74).

    In December of 1958, Antillian College, a school ran by Seventh Day
    Adventists, fed and took care of wounded soldiers who were fighting in
    the Sierra Maestra (172–74). When the first draft for the SMO was
    enacted, 70 of the 110 eligible students at Antillian College were
    drafted. After asking the government to release some of their students
    so that the school could function, the majority of the recruited
    Adventists returned to school. Still, the SMO was problematic for
    Seventh Day Adventists because it did not make a distinction between
    combatants and non-combatants (203). In response, the Seventh Day
    Adventist Church created a commission to write a memorandum asking the
    government to exempt the remaining 12 Adventists who had been called for
    SMO. The memorandum explained the distinction between serving combatant
    vs. non-combatant roles, Adventists’ unique Sabbath observance, and
    their loyalty to the government. The commission chose four pastors to
    deliver the memorandum along with one lay member, Argelio Rosabal – the
    same man who had sacrificed his only shirt to Che Guevara in the Sierra
    Maestra. Rosabal personally delivered the memorandum to Che, who on
    October 28, 1963, sent a letter enclosed with said memorandum to the
    head of the Agrarian Reform program, Carlos Rodríguez. In the letter,
    Che wrote, “[Argelio Rosabal] is the Adventist I spoke to you about …
    you will know how to evade the law, or how to divert my attention”
    (203–5). Che Guevara interceded on behalf of his Adventist friend,
    Rosabal, for an exception to be created in the SMO for this sect.

    Later, it ended up that Adventists would be sent to the UMAP camps, but
    sociologist Caleb Rosado stresses that they were sent to the UMAP
    “simply … because [they] refused to bear arms [and] there was no other
    place to locate them” and not because they were considered lacra social,
    as the government regarded other UMAP internees (205–6). Indeed, former
    internees have not stressed abuses against Seventh Day Adventists, but
    have mentioned the fairer treatment Adventists received in comparison
    with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
    memoir that at one camp there were two Adventists who refused to work on
    Saturday but compensated for their quota during the rest of the week.
    The lieutenant at the camp did not bother them and allowed them to
    fulfill their quota in this manner (Blanco 89). However, Blanco has also
    stressed that Adventists received fairer treatment only because they
    were the hardest working internees (Blanco 2013). Adventists were
    apparently not the only sect granted the right to rest on their
    respective Sabbath. In Granma, a member of Gideons International said,
    “They allow me to rest on Saturday and work on Sunday” (“Unidades,” 8).
    However, like so many other aspects of the UMAP, the relatively better
    treatment that Adventists received cannot be generalized for all camps.
    At least one former internee recalled seeing Adventists forced to work
    on the Sabbath and receive terrible abuse similar to that endured by
    Jehovah’s Witnesses (Ros 112).

    Through the relationship that some Seventh Day Adventists forged with
    revolutionary leaders in the Sierra Maestra, Adventists had a privileged
    relationship with the revolutionary government which granted them more
    flexibility in their religious activities than most sects. As a result,
    Adventists were able to give their direct input to revolutionary leaders
    regarding the SMO and thus helped inform what would eventually become
    the UMAP policy. Even after the UMAP was closed, Adventists were given
    accommodations to allow them to serve in the SMO whereas Jehovah’s
    Witnesses were imprisoned (Rosado 206). Crucially, this history
    demonstrates that not all sects were sent to the UMAP camps because they
    were perceived as contrarrevolucionarios. For Adventists, the UMAP camps
    were a way to fulfill the SMO and provide more labor to the state.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, were sent to the UMAP camps
    because in the eyes of the state they were contrarrevolucionarios and,
    consequently, suffered terrible mistreatment. Seventh Day Adventists,
    however, were not associated with the same contrarrevolucionario stigma
    and thus were not the target of abuse in the camps.

    Outside the camps, Adventists also faced a relatively hospitable
    environment. Whereas the number of clergy in most Protestant churches
    dropped drastically between 1960 and 1963, the number of Adventist
    clergy actually grew over 20 percent (Rosado 193). Between 1960 and
    1984, the membership of Seventh Day Adventists grew over 50 percent to
    nearly 9,000 members – whereas the number of Catholics, Jews,
    Presbyterians and Methodists all faced drastic losses due to emigration,
    the expulsion of foreign clerics, and discrimination toward religiously
    active citizens (194). Evidence of regular abuse of religious groups
    other than testigos is scant. In the memoir Dios No Entra en mi Oficina,
    former internee Alberto Muñoz, who was sent to the UMAP as a young
    Baptist seminarian, asserted that Christians were treated better in the
    camps because “we had earned prestige and we had better relations with
    our superiors.”

    Although all former inmates have recalled their experiences in the UMAP
    as highly negative, not all internees turned against the Revolution as a
    result of the abuses in the UMAP – as was the case for a few religiosos.
    Nicaraguan Catholic priest and liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal
    met one Catholic who affirmed, “there [in the UMAP camps] I became a
    revolutionary” because “in the concentration camp I realized that I
    ought not to leave. That to fight to make the Revolution better you have
    to be a revolutionary” (Cardenal 292–94). This particular Catholic was
    not the only religioso who came out of the UMAP camps wishing to stay on
    the island and improve the Revolution. One high-profile former internee
    is Jaime Lucas Ortega, who was sent to the UMAP camps as a young
    Catholic priest and is currently the archbishop of Havana (Ros 62).
    Former internee Raúl Suárez, a Baptist who attended Western Cuba Baptist
    Theological seminary, went on to become a member of Cuba’s parliament
    and in 1990 secured the right for Christians to assemble in their homes
    for religious purposes (Blanco 98; Esqueda 30; Feinberg). A few UMAP
    internees left the camps not dejected, but determined to improve the
    plight of their patria.26

    By the eve of the Revolution, the Abakuá secret society, founded by
    slaves in Regla in 1836, had over 130 branches and controlled employment
    at ship docks, tobacco factories, and slaughterhouses (Palmié and Pérez
    219; Routon 380–81). This mutual-aid secret society was problematic for
    the Cuban Revolution for a number of reasons. As its membership was
    predominantly black (white members were accepted as early as 1857 and
    later Chinese-Cubans also joined (Routon 380–81; Miller 171)) and
    working-class (Palmié and Pérez 219), the class-conscious and
    race-conscious organization was inherently an artifact of the
    capitalist, racist superstructures that the Revolution intended to
    destroy. Further, the organization’s significant wield over labor
    markets challenged the Revolution’s new state-run economic system. Early
    in the Revolution, the government manipulated the Abakuá Society by
    playing favorites with individual branches to turn them against each
    other (Routon 384). In 1968, 458 Abakuá members were in prison in Havana
    alone (384).

    Abakuá members were amongst the many individuals sent to the UMAP camps
    (Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera 164). Accounts of the UMAP
    camps frequently describe “common delinquents” among the inmates, but
    many of these accounts may be referencing members of the Abakuá Society,
    which has long been associated with criminality (Guerra 2012, 262). For
    instance, in one memoir a former UMAP internee wrote that “in the camps
    there were also common delinquents. The most well-known was Eleguá who
    came to the UMAP from a juvenile correctional facility in Jaruco. Eleguá
    … was a young black Abakuá which was why he was the protagonist of the
    sad episode” (Blanco 67). Clearly, the former internee conflated
    Eleguá’s criminality and his Abakuá membership. Eleguá is introduced as
    serving in the UMAP because he is a “delincuente común” (common
    delinquent), but the next sentence says that his Abakuá membership was
    the reason he was sent to the UMAP. Although some accounts of the UMAP
    camps may have conflated criminality and Abakuá membership, it should be
    emphasized that some UMAP recruits actually were criminals who had been
    transferred from jails where they had been serving time for serious
    crimes such as murder and rape (Llovio 12).

    Abakuá were not explicitly labeled contrarrevolucionario, but
    revolutionary policies still seriously hindered their activities. The
    Revolution’s attitude toward the Abakuá initially celebrated the Society
    as a unique component of Cuban culture and identity. Early in the
    Revolution, the government recognized the Abakuá for their participation
    in Cuba’s wars of independence by inviting Abakuá members to a
    commemoration ceremony (Guerra 2012, 155). Soon, the expression of
    traditions with African heritage, including Santería and Abakuá, became
    marginalized by the government. The act of wearing necklaces or shaving
    one’s head as part of Santería practices could risk one’s job and the
    initiation of children into Santería was banned (Falola 270).
    Publications began to portray religions of African heritage as primitive
    belief systems at odds with the goals of communism (272).
    Representations of African heritage and tradition were not celebrated,
    but treated as cultural relics of the past which would eventually
    dissolve with the creation of a truly communist society (272).

    An article published in the magazine El militante comunista the very
    summer that the UMAP camps were closed expressed these same
    condescending attitudes toward Abakuá. The majority of the article gives
    a thorough history of the Abakuá in a non-politicized manner, but
    concludes by urging the end of the Society: “enough with remembering the
    leopard-men, who have served as the themes of literature and
    sensationalist film” (“La sociedad secreta Abakuá,” 36–45). The author
    explained that the Abakuá Society is obsolete because “in our socialist
    society … mutual-aid societies are not necessary. The revolutionary
    state, which is today the people, jealously guards the security and
    well-being of all citizens of the country” (44–45). The initiation of
    young people into Abakuá is derided as “filling heads with reactionary
    obscurantism, teaching customs and traditions, which, sooner or later,
    will lead them to a clash with the authorities and with the rest of
    society” (44–45). The article ends by forecasting that the Abakuá will
    disappear in the “development of the revolutionary process” (44–45).
    Representations of African heritage in the early years of the
    Revolution, although sometimes giving a voice to Afro-Cubans for the
    first time through theater and music, ultimately never treated
    African-derived traditions as truly legitimate elements of Cuban
    culture, but as relics of the past which would fade in the march for
    communist progress.

    These condescending attitudes toward Abakuá were reflected in the
    government’s hindering of their day-to-day practices. In the mid-1960s,
    a special permit was required to authorize religious ceremonies (Falola
    275). The application process required submitting a list of the
    attendees one month in advance and an explanation of why the event
    needed to be held. These restrictions caused so much difficulty for some
    Abakuá members that during the 1960s some ceremonies ceased for years
    (275). The Revolution’s attitudes toward Abakuá and the over-regulation
    of their activities reveal that race still mattered in revolutionary
    Cuba. The patronizing discourse of the Revolution, led almost entirely
    by white men, against the African-derived, predominantly black Abakuá
    reinforced existing racial hierarchies under the guise of “communist
    progress.” As the case of the Abakuá demonstrates, traditions of African
    heritage were imagined as primitive and incompatible with an advanced,
    communist society. As a result, since one’s local CDR president helped
    determine who was sent to the UMAP camps, the racist prejudices of
    individual CDR members probably contributed to many Abakuá members’
    placement in the UMAP camps instead of the regular SMO.

    A gendered interpretation of the UMAP cannot exclude the presence of
    Abakuá at the camps, long notorious for being the site of Cuba’s most
    extreme gender policing. Masculinity is an essential component of the
    Abakuá Society, a brotherhood that aims to foster a correct manliness
    amongst its members. Effeminate or homosexual men can never join the
    Society (Leiner 22). As the organization’s oft-repeated criterion for
    the proper member states: “A man is not just one who is not homosexual,
    but also one who reflects the purest dignity of a human being through
    being hard-working, fraternal, happy, rebellious against injustice, and
    a follower of the Moral Code established by the founders of Abakuá”
    (“Sociedad Secreta Abakuá” 2013).

    The Revolution viewed Abakuá as a threat because its brand of
    masculinity was considered overly aggressive and degrading to women
    (Routon 384). The 1968 article in El militante comunista challenges the
    masculinity of the Abakuá in exactly this manner, arguing that they
    fostered a machismo detrimental to society:

    It is very important the role that ‘machismo’ plays, mistaken concept,
    primitive and twisted of manliness, in the ñañiguismo [another term for
    Abakuá]. It considers the woman a beast of burden and an instrument of
    pleasure. They cultivate revenge for allegations of real offenses to
    manliness or to religion … These acts of vengeance, curious thing if one
    thinks about machismo, are always carried out in a treacherous and
    cowardly way… It is not necessary to stress the attraction these things
    have for lumpen [underclass scum]. Innumerable people have committed
    bloody acts in the name of Abakuá, uncountable the unpunished crimes
    thanks to their false concept of manliness and companionship. (“La
    sociedad secreta Abakuá,” 44–45)
    Here, the machismo of the Abakuá is portrayed as a violent, misogynist
    extreme of the true hombría (manliness) of the Revolution. In this
    manner, the Cuban Revolution used the rhetoric of gender policing
    against those on either end of the traditional masculinity spectrum,
    both those who were insufficiently masculine and those who were
    excessively machista (chauvinistic). The article’s use of the term
    lumpen to describe Abakuá – a term which referred to a web of different
    types of individuals including vagos, homosexuals, enfermitos,27 etc. –
    further links the Abakuá to the government’s global gender policing
    goals (Ros 9; Lumsden 71; Castro 1966). On both ends of the spectrum,
    the Revolution reinterpreted certain gendered behavior as detrimental to
    the goals of a communist society.
    During the 1960s the Cuban Revolution severely and systematically
    restricted gay citizens’ rights. Gay people were not allowed to teach,
    go abroad, join the military, attend university, practice the fine arts,
    work in the press, or join the communist party (Lumsden 76; Young 28;
    Santiago; Salas 160–61). In the university, students were purged for
    accusations of homosexuality in public trials attended by hundreds of
    students. Trials for accused homosexuals had the same procedures as
    those for accused counterrevolutionaries (Improper Conduct; Guerra 2012,
    247). Employment of antisociales and homosexuals was regulated through
    one’s expediente, a government dossier on every citizen which is
    reviewed for hiring (Lumsden 76). Government documents such as
    expedientes and military IDs contained symbols which marked one as an
    antisocial or a homosexual (Young 38; Santiago). Héctor Santiago, for
    instance, was barred from returning to his work in theater after leaving
    the UMAP because his expediente indicated his antisocial status
    (Santiago). Even in the legal system, gays were excluded. Court cases
    handled through popular tribunals (a localized legal system for minor
    cases implemented in 1963) were all held publicly, except for certain
    cases involving a woman’s “honor,” juvenile delinquents, or homosexuals
    (Domínguez 1978, 256). In a communist country aspiring for
    classlessness, gays were an underclass.

    Historians have characterized the UMAP as the pinnacle of the Cuban
    Revolution’s gender policing (Guerra 2010, 268). However, the vagueness
    of this academic catchphrase lends itself to misinterpretation and fails
    to fully describe the event of the UMAP camps. Firstly, not all the gay
    men sent to the UMAP exhibited queer or effeminate behavior. Men
    interned at camps for homosexuals could be effeminate, masculine, or
    whatever (Santiago; Viera). Although classical machismo prioritizes
    gender performance, what specifically preoccupied the Cuban Revolution
    was its citizens’ sexual behavior. As one former internee emphasized,
    “What mattered was homosexual sexuality” (Santiago).

    Secondly, the Revolution’s repressive policies against homosexuals did
    not merely police the gender of queers, but of the entire population.
    For example, the Revolution’s rhetoric of gender policing justified
    repression against Abakuá because they projected a deviantly machista
    masculinity. In this way, people on either end of the spectrum of
    gender-normative behavior were at risk of being sent to the UMAP camps.
    Moreover, straight and/or gender-conforming individuals were also
    impacted by the state-sponsored campaign against homosexuality because
    they now had to fear that an agent of the state – as close as the CDR up
    the street or a fellow classmate – may accuse them of homosexuality. As
    a young, self-identified heterosexual and revolutionary Cuban explained,
    “The persecution of homosexuals … is hateful and unnerving. Not that
    we’re homosexuals. But there’s always the fear that they’ll think you
    are, because of the long hair or because you’re an artist or a poet …
    It’s all repression” (Cardenal 21). Indeed, the very point of the
    state’s gender policing was to enforce machista norms amongst all
    members of society. All men and women had to check their own gender
    performance and expression to ensure that their masculinity or
    femininity was never questioned, lest they face the state’s
    consequences. Although homosexual men were the direct targets of the
    Revolution’s repressive policies, Cuba’s gender policing was truly
    directed toward the whole population – to intimidate all Cubans into
    adopting ever more machista gender norms to achieve the realization of
    the illusive hombre nuevo (the “New Man”) who would usher in the
    communist future.28

    Thirdly, describing the event of the UMAP as gender policing implies
    that gay men were its principal victims. To the contrary, numerous
    former internees from camps not for gay men have insisted that
    homosexuals only numbered somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of all
    internees (Blanco 79; Cabrera 13; Muñoz). Another internee from a camp
    not for gay men reported that up to one-fourth of the internees at his
    camp were homosexual (Viera). Since gay men were segregated, however,
    testimony from former internees cannot reveal the overall proportion of
    homosexuals in the UMAP. Consequently, these figures are most likely
    underestimates because they are only based on the number of internees
    seen transferred from camps not for gay men to camps for homosexuals and
    thus fail to include those who may have been sent directly to camps for
    gays (via government raids of the streets of Havana, for instance).
    Although not strictly accurate, these estimates remind us of the larger
    truth that gay men were only one group amongst a diverse gamut of internees.

    Finally, the term “gender policing” obscures one of the central purposes
    behind the UMAP, which was not “policing” the gender of gay men, but
    actually eradicating homosexuality. After having waged a highly
    effective anti-prostitution campaign during the early and mid-1960s
    (Salas 100–102), the Cuban Revolution next attempted to eliminate
    homosexuality. In addition to the social and political stigmatization of
    homosexuality, the medicalization of homosexuality heavily informed the
    “treatment” gay men received in the UMAP.29 A 1965 study in Havana to
    determine the cause of effeminacy in boys concluded that both
    environmental factors and inherited characteristics contributed to male
    effeminacy. Certain children, then, were born prone to developing
    effeminate and eventually homosexual behaviors, but only if “triggered”
    by certain environmental factors. The study urged that the prevention of
    male effeminacy and homosexuality “can only be done through the organs
    and mechanisms of education at the disposition of the State” (Leiner
    39–40). Steeped in this medicalized understanding, it was believed that
    homosexuality was preventable. Under this rationale, homosexuals would
    be banned from most work involving the public. In 1965, the Ministry of
    Health published a report on homosexuality which found that there was no
    known biological cause of homosexuality. The report concluded that
    homosexuality must be a learned behavior and urged that “research as
    well as prevention must start very early in order to influence the
    mechanisms of this learning process” (33). As part of these efforts in
    the 1960s, boys perceived as effeminate or prone to homosexuality were
    transferred to special schools called “Yellow Brigades” where they were
    taught to engage in gender-normative behaviors such as playing sports
    and practicing self-defense (Salas 164; Leiner 34). Again, the ideology
    behind the Yellow Brigades was rooted in the idea that homosexuality is
    a medical illness and social ill which the state must seek to contain.
    In parallel, gay men were segregated at the UMAP camps as part of the
    government’s efforts to contain the perceived contaminant before it
    “infected” society.

    During this same period, efforts were made in Cuba to develop cures for
    homosexuality. In 1962, the director of La Revista del Hospital
    Psiquiátrico published an article in the Revista Cubana de Medicina
    entitled “Una nueva modalidad del tratamiento de la homosexualidad”
    (Marqués). In the study, Dr. Eduardo Gutiérrez Agramonte developed
    treatments inspired by Czech researcher Kurt Freund, including
    electroshock therapy and hormone treatments. In Pavlovian experiments,
    patients were administered positive or negative stimuli while being
    asked to select between images of nude men and women (Marqués).

    Similar medical experiments were researched and conducted at the UMAP
    camps. While Llovio was stationed at the Camagüey Staff Headquarters to
    work as a doctor, his roommate was Lieutenant Luis Alberto Lavandeira, a
    veteran of the Cuban Revolution (Llovio 171). Lavandeira and researchers
    from the University of Havana went to camp Malesar to research
    “rehabilitating” homosexual internees. Lavandeira told Llovio, who had
    been assigned as a representative for the project, that homosexuality
    could be cured, but, “There is only one medicine and we have it at hand.
    It is Marxist philosophy, accompanied by hard labor that will force them
    into manly consciousness and gestures” (171). The inmates were
    uncooperative, however, and simply guffawed at Lavandeira’s questions
    regarding their sex lives. The project was soon canceled and Lavandeira
    was transferred to work at a psychiatric ward. Former gay internee Jorge
    Ronet wrote in his memoir that “foreign psychiatrists came with
    translators and we were forced to receive injections of unknown
    substances” (53–54). To avoid undergoing any further medical
    experiments, Ronet purposefully misbehaved so he would be transferred to
    another camp (53–54). In another possible reference to these
    experiments, a letter written by an internee in the UMAP states that a
    fellow internee was taken to a camp for the mentally ill after seeing a
    psychiatrist.30 Héctor Santiago, a former UMAP internee who was sent to
    camps for homosexuals, further described the medical experiments to
    “cure” homosexuality:

    They thought they could apply that [Pavlovian experiments] to the gays.
    Then they would give you an insulin shock and an electric shock while
    they showed you photos of nude men and afterwards they gave you, while
    they gave you food, gave cigars, they showed films of heterosexual sex.
    They thought like that they could … convert you into a heterosexual …
    Sometimes they left you without food and water for three days and then
    they showed you photos of nude men and later they gave you food when
    they showed you the photos of the women. If you are not diabetic, and
    they give you an insulin shot, it shocks you, you urinate and defecate
    and vomit … Electric shock … you lost your memory and two or three days
    after you don’t know who you were and you are catatonic and you cannot
    The therapy would be repeated until “they think they were successful …
    after the treatments they interviewed you and then they asked you about
    women and if you were having relations with men … you were smart and you
    learned that if you say yes to everything that they asked you, they stop
    the whole thing” (Santiago). In the film Conducta Impropia, Cuban poet
    Heberto Padilla also discussed these Pavlovian experiments in the UMAP.
    Santiago reported that the government realized these abusive medical
    experiments were ineffective and terminated them after six to eight
    months. Unfortunately, because of the scarcity of testimony by gay
    former internees, generalizations cannot be made about the exact nature
    of these medical experiments or how frequently they were carried out.
    However, medical experiments of some sort were certainly conducted in
    the UMAP camps with the intention of “curing” homosexuality.

    Ultimately, the Revolution never transformed the homosexual into the
    hombre nuevo and internees at the UMAP persisted in their
    non-gender-conforming behavior. While working as a doctor at one camp,
    Llovio overheard a lieutenant shouting angrily about the unauthorized
    activities of the internees: “Last night, they had a party in the
    barracks … [for] a goddamn wedding … they decorated the barracks … It
    looked just like a church … with a wedding dress and everything!” (157).
    During a hurricane in 1966, one barrack of pájaros (gay men) pulled off
    a fashion show, transforming their verde olivo uniforms into bikinis
    (Blanco 76). Alberto Muñoz remembered that at camp Laguna Grande he saw
    “the pride with which the majority boasted of their homosexuality.”
    Unsurprisingly, there was also plenty of sexual activity at the UMAP
    camps. Muñoz recalled that in his camp the area behind the bathrooms was
    “the meeting place of the homosexuals.” In addition, some UMAP officials
    were removed and put to trial for having sexual relations with the
    internees (Blanco 75; Muñoz). As one gay former internee put it, “They
    put all the homosexuals together, and what they do, they fuck with the
    guards … At night, the gays escape and they fuck with the soldier, they
    fuck with the peasant, they fuck with everybody” (Santiago).

    The Legacy of the UMAP
    During Canadian journalist Paul Kidd’s startling 1966 encounter in rural
    Cuba, he managed to enter the barracks, take photos, and even speak with
    internees. Kidd, the sole third-party source regarding the UMAP camps,
    described what he witnessed as “forced-labor camp[s]” and a source of
    “almost slave” labor (Kidd 1969, 24). In the exile community, the UMAP
    camps are similarly remembered as Cuba’s “concentration camps.”
    Historian Enrique Ros’s book on the UMAP camps echoes an oft-repeated
    maxim amongst the former internees: “The UMAP, where there was never a
    human gesture” (231). Interestingly, one former internee responded to
    this dictum in his memoir by regarding it as hyperbole, explaining that
    although he respects “the judgment of the author, who like everyone,
    certainly suffered very much, my experience was different … I met
    respectable officials who, from their point of view, tried to accomplish
    their work in the best way possible … at the same time I met others …
    far from humane” (Muñoz). Clearly, the experiences of UMAP internees
    resist broad generalizations and cannot conform to a single,
    concentration-camp narrative. Instead, the varied experiences of UMAP
    internees reflect how the camps were a vital component of the Cuban
    Revolution’s diverse economic, social, and political goals. What ties
    together the narrative of the UMAP is a revolution bent on achieving a
    fantastical, communist utopia – a Cuba where record zafras catapulted
    the economy into abundant prosperity, a Cuba where everyone’s allegiance
    was dedicated exclusively to the Revolution, and a Cuba where no one was
    homosexual. Forty-two years after the closure of the camps, Fidel Castro
    himself finally decided their legacy in response to an interview
    question regarding the UMAP: “Yes, there were moments of great
    injustice, a great injustice!”31


    1 Paul Kidd, “Cuba Expels Reporter,” Edmonton Journal, September 10,
    1966, 1.

    2 Ibid.

    3 Enrique Ros, La UMAP: El Gulag Castrista (Miami: Ediciones Universal,
    2004), 9, 254, 278.

    4 Lillian Guerra, “Gender policing, homosexuality and the new patriarchy
    of the Cuban Revolution, 1965–70,” Social History 35.3 (2010): 268; Ian
    Lumsden, Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality
    (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), 55–81.

    5 The term revolucionario connotes a patriotic Cuban communist who
    supports the government and Fidel Castro.

    6 José Caballero Blanco, Una Muerte A Plazos (2nd Edition. Lexington:
    D’Har Services, 2008), 155; Ros, La UMAP, 15; Emilio Izquierdo,
    interview with author, December 2012.

    7 Ros, La UMAP, 13; Jorge Domínguez, Armies and politics in Latin
    America (Holmes & Meier, 1976), 324.

    8 Note that the 35,000 figure is an estimate of the total number of
    internees. The number of internees at any given moment may have been
    lower. The reason for the discrepancy between the total number of
    internees and the number of internees at a given moment is that
    internees had to be replaced due to escapes, medical discharges, deaths,

    9 Due to the difficulty of researching this topic in Cuba, this
    assertion is not a quantitatively backed claim but an educated guess
    based on the author’s survey of available testimony.

    10 “Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción,” Granma, April 14,
    1966, 8; “Vacaciones en la UMAP por fiestas de fin de año,” Granma,
    December 13, 1966, 1;“Vacaciones desde mañana a los de UMAP,” Granma,
    December 20, 1966, 5; José Armas, “En los cañaverales,” Verde Olivo,
    April 17, 1966, 8; Carlos Selva Yero, “Operación: Testigos de Jehovah,”
    Verde Olivo, April 23, 1966, 22–24; José Armas, “Ascensos en las UMAP,”
    Verde Olivo, June 12, 1966, 31–33; P. E. Cabrera, “Unidades Militares de
    Ayuda a la Producción: Un recorrido,” Verde Olivo, March 19, 1967,
    34–38; Luis Pavón, “¿Qué es la UMAP?” Verde Olivo, March 27, 1967; “Las
    Brigadas de Las UMAP,” Verde Olivo, May 15, 1967, 38; P. E. Cabrera, “Un
    millón en 75 días,” Verde Olivo, May 7, 1967, 19–21; José Armas,
    “Premios en las UMAP,” Verde Olivo, October 30, 1967, 14–16; Alberto
    González Muñoz, Dios No Entra en mi Oficina, (4th Edition, 2012), eBook.

    11 “Hablemos de ‘Comentemos’” Mella, October 1, 1964, 14; “Los Vagos se
    disfrazan de enfermitos,” Mella, October 5, 1967, 9.

    12 The author uses “men” in lieu of a gender-neutral term to emphasize
    that, in all likelihood, nearly all internees were male. All available
    testimony from male, former UMAP internees concurs that all UMAP
    internees were male. The fact that the UMAP was technically part of the
    SMO further strengthens the argument that nearly all former UMAP
    internees were male. Historian Lillian Guerra, however, reports that
    women were also interned at work camps. See Visions of Power in Cuba,
    254. For more testimony regarding women in work camps, see Ocho Amigos,

    13 “Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción: Un recorrido,” Verde
    Olivo, March 19, 1967, 37; “Las Brigadas de Las UMAP,” Verde Olivo. May
    15, 1967, 38.

    14 Dichrostachys cinerea, a weed in Cuba.

    15 As described, the político was the camp official in charge of
    politically educating UMAP internees.

    16 Blanco, Una Muerte, 56; Real Academia Española, “cordel,”

    17 Schools where students split their time between learning in class and
    working in agriculture.

    18 Jorge G. Castañeda, Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (New
    York: Knopf, 1997), 178. In addition to camp Guanahacabibes, another
    interesting precursor to the UMAP was the trial of Marcos Rodríguez. In
    1964, Rodríguez (better known as “Marquitos”) was found guilty of
    treason and executed. Since Rodríguez’s peers perceived him as gay, the
    transcripts from the trial provide insight into how Cubans connected
    being homosexual with being un-revolutionary. See The Taming of Fidel
    Castro by Maurice Halperin.

    19 See Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s “Socialism and Man in Cuba.”

    20 Alfredo Guevara, former head of the Cuban film institute ICAIC, is a
    common example. Lumsden, Machos, 64;Santiago, interview with author,
    September 8, 2013.

    21 As before, this assertion is not a quantitatively backed claim but an
    educated guess based on the author’s survey of available testimony.

    22 Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be lumped together with Protestant
    sects. From the perspective of Cubans, however, Protestant religions and
    sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses from the United States all seemed

    23 “Discurso pronunciado por el comandante Fidel Castro Ruz,” March 13,

    24 “Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción,” Granma; “¿Qué es la
    UMAP?” Verde Olivo; Yero, “Operación: Testigos de Jehovah,” Verde Olivo.

    25 “Cuba: Information on the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the
    authorities,” Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada,; “Testigos de Jehová ganan
    espacios en Cuba,” Cubanet, December 28, 1998, accessed June 23, 2013,; “Celebran asambleas
    Testigos de Jehová,” Cubanet, December 7, 2006,

    26 The author does not represent these cases as brainwashing because
    that would imply that the camp político played a prominent role in the
    UMAP. Testimony from former internees, however, has neither emphasized
    the role of the político nor characterized the UMAP as an instance of

    27 A person who is considered un-revolutionary because they adopt
    clothing styles of capitalist countries. See In the Fist of the
    Revolution, 203–4.
    28 Hombre nuevo refers to a term Che Guevara used to describe the
    communist man of the future. See Che’s “Socialism and Man in Cuba.” For
    analysis of how the concept of the “New Man” was incompatible with
    homosexuality, see Social Control and Deviance in Cuba, 165.

    29 It must be stressed that the association of homosexuality with
    capitalism also played an extremely important role in rationalizing the
    Revolution’s policies against homosexuals. See Social Control and
    Deviance in Cuba, 165–66 and Machos, 65.

    30 Letter from unidentified former internee to Héctor Santiago, dated
    March 3, 1966. Part of the “Héctor Santiago Papers” available at the
    University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection,

    31 Carmen Saade, “Soy el responsable de la persecución a homosexuales
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    Source: Vol 14 No 2 Tahbaz –

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