Cuba's Unresolved UMAP History: Survivors' Struggles to Counter the Official Story
San Juan, Rebecca
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The History department thesis “Cuba’s Unresolved UMAP History: Survivors’ Struggles to Counter the Official Story” explores how the Castro regime and its victims remember the island’s reeducation camps. The Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps were created in 1964 and constructed throughout the province of Camagüey. Applicants for Cuban passports, gays, political dissidents, and religious minorities were detained and forced to work for below minimum wages to cultivate agricultural fields. The great majority of laborers worked in sugarcane fields to boost production. Prisoners were not only exposed to hard labor but also physical and emotional abuses. The Cuban Union of Writers and Artists led protests against the camps and managed to spread information about these human rights atrocities outside of Cuba, including hormonal experimentation on gay laborers. The level of negative press that these reeducation camps earned outside of the island prompted Fidel Castro to close and demolish them by 1969. Research funded by an Almara fellowship involved survivors’ published and unpublished testimonies, an interview with the leader of a survivors’ organization, and various print sources dealing with the camps during the 1960s and their controversies later. Castro’s targeting of deviant labor led his regime on multiple occasions to reframe the image and stories surrounding these camps that were never officially commemorated by the state. While the official justification originally claimed the camps provided marginalized civilians the opportunity to reform themselves and contribute economically to Cuba, some victims of the UMAP camps saw themselves instead as the slaves of a regime that discriminated against them and disregarded their rights while exploiting their labor. The camps served as a stepping-stone towards the Ten Million Ton Harvest effort of 1970 that redefined the ideal patriotic man through the New Man campaign. The swift transition from the UMAP camps to these subsequent campaigns allowed for Cuban society to focus on its future rather than commemorate its past.