REQUIEM FOR ÁLVARO ÍNSUA--A CASUALTY OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH IN SOCIALIST CUBA—CHAPTER 3

(Image: U.S. Embassy building in Havana where Álvaro requested visas in 1980)

By:  Roland Armando Alum <ralum@pitt.edu>

(Image: U.S. Embassy building in Havana where Álvaro requested visas in 1980)

CHAPTER THREE

Synopsis & Resumen en Español

V--My Own Connection

VI--Coda

Note for Chapter Three

Cumulative Bibliography


SYNOPSIS: (English):   This is the third and final chapter of a three parts article.  In this extended obituary I honor the memory of my four-decade friend, Álvaro Ínsua (1935-2019).  I highlight his connection with the ill-fated socio-anthropological research project in Socialist Cuba in 1969-1970 led by the famed U.S. anthropologist Oscar Lewis and his colleague Douglas Butterworth that focused on Lewis’ much-debated “culture of poverty” theory.  Indeed, Álvaro’s collaboration with the Lewis-Butterworth project landed him in prison in Cuba for six long years given that the regime spied on the researchers 24/7.  This case makes Ínsua historically a de facto casualty of anthropological investigation, yet, relatively little has been written about it, a gap that I attempt to correct from a personal perspective.  I further endeavor to place his sad story in the wider corpus of the á propos literature on Cubanology and the history of anthropology.  The first and second chapters previously published outlined Ínsua’s personal and professional background and the third chapter concludes the narrative and adds a comprehensive bibliography for all three chapters. 

  RESUMEN (Spanish):   El presente escrito constituye el tercer y último capítulo de un artículo dividido en tres partes.  En este extenso obituario, honro la memoria de Álvaro Ínsua (1935-2019), mi amigo de cuatro décadas.  Destaco su conexión con el desafortunado proyecto de investigaciones socio-antropológicas en la Cuba Socialista en 1969-1970, encabezado por el afamado antropólogo estadounidense Oscar Lewis y su colega Douglas Butterworth.  Ese estudio se centró en la debatida teoría de la “cultura de la pobreza”, por la cual Lewis es más conocido.  Dicha colaboración resultó en que Álvaro sufriera seis largos años como prisionero político en Cuba, ya que el régimen espiaba todos los aspectos del proyecto Lewis-Butterworth.  Su encarcelamiento convirtió a Álvaro en una víctima de la investigación antropológica, hecho que todavía no es reconocido debidamente en los círculos académicos, un vacío que intento llenar con una perspectiva personal.  Así mismo, propongo situar su triste caso en el campo más amplio de la literatura pertinente a los tópicos claves de la cubanología y de la historia de la antropología.  Los dos capítulos publicados anteriormente delinean el trasfondo personal y profesional de Ínsua, y aquí, el tercero, concluye la narrativa y añade una bibliografía exhaustiva concerniente a los tres capítulos en total.     

    “Ver con calma un crimen es como cometerlo“  [“To witness a crime in silence is like committing it…”],  José Martí

  VII--MY OWN CONNECTION:   After he completed his incarceration sentence, Álvaro contacted me through a third party in spring/1978.  I was completing at the time my long-term ethnographic research in rural Dominican Republic for Pitt’s Anthropology Department.  My study included certain aspects of the CoP among cane plantation workers (e.g., Alum, 1985). The individual who connected us was a U.S. information/cultural diplomat who had welcomed me in Santo Domingo as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow; luckily, and coincidentally, she was later assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana after President Carter opened it in 1977.

   Among the binational accords, the U.S. was to grant humanitarian entry visas to the many former political prisoners.  Álvaro went to request his visa at the Interests Section, located in the former embassy building on Havana’s picturesque seaside Malecón boulevard.  When the consular officers heard of his ill-starred Lewis-Butterworth experience, they alerted my diplomat friend, who took a personal interest in Álvaro’s case; likewise, she informed Álvaro about me and my Dominican investigations.  She then contacted her successor at the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo, who located me at the Dominican Museum of Man (where I held local institutional affiliation).   Álvaro and I corresponded immediately.

   In the spring of 1980 Álvaro and Greta were finally granted Cuban exit permits, together with their son Manolo, his wife Mirna and their infant son Jemmy, plus Álvaro’s widowed mother (Aurora) and a paternal aunt (Manuela).  The seven Ínsua family flew to Costa Rica for a week, and then to Miami on April 21, most expenses facilitated by Mirna’s already exiled kin.  Upon arriving in Miami at the home of a former political prisoner friend who hosted them, they were welcomed with a flower arrangement from me that “lifted [their] spirits.”  Álvaro, Greta, Manolo, and Mirna took menial jobs in Dade County alongside the Mariel mass exodus refugees arriving at the same time in mid-1980 (Hornblower, 1980).  

   That cold December of 1980 Álvaro and Greta took an arduous bus ride to Union City, considered the Cuban-American capital in the Northeast --sort of “the Miami by the Hudson River” (Prieto, 2009)-- where I welcomed them.  Indeed, I drove them to the home of friends in the city of Elizabeth, where Manolo, Mirna and Jemmy were already staying.  For most of the time in the Garden State, Álvaro worked principally at a local bank; Greta, Manolo and Mirna toiled again at menial jobs.

   Given his credentials, Álvaro accepted a new position in September/1984 as the lead reporter in Miami for the Federal-sponsored Radio Martí Spanish-language station; he retired 27 years later, in April/2011.  I had the honor of being interviewed by Álvaro for his program during my brief visit to Miami in January/1990 in my capacity then as the highest-ranking U.S.  Government Hispanic official in Federal Region II.(12)

   VIII--CODA:   Álvaro was a rather unassuming, generous and civic-minded individual.

When he joined Radio Martí, he saw his opportunity to help break the Cuban government’s information monopoly.  While in New Jersey, he gave talks to my students at the two New York institutions where I was teaching in the early 1980s (SUNY-Empire State College’s Center for Labor Studies and John Jay College).  He also joined me at gatherings of the League of United Latin-American Citizens/LULAC’s local chapter in advocating for the Mariel refugees (vid. del Risco, 2019).  Additionally, he assisted me with statistical analyses of my own Dominican research data (e.g., Alum, 1985).  Still later, from Miami, he helped me interpret statistical data that I was receiving from Washington while serving as (pro bono) National Chairman of the U.S. Census’ Hispanic Advisory Committee.

   Much more can be said about Álvaro, but I am reserving it for future writings.  Yet, I should not close without mentioning that both Álvaro and Greta customarily remembered Oscar Lewis with reverential respect.

  Following retirement, Álvaro resumed the task that I had been encouraging him to complete: his own memoirs; but then he became ill.  Hopefully, Greta and Manolo will complete it as a family endeavor for the sake of Cubanology and the history of anthropology.

   Álvaro’s ashes are buried in one of the southernmost Florida Keys, as if gazing at Cuba.  His many surviving kin and friends pay regular visits to the burial site.  

   A victim of anthropological research in Socialist Cuba, Álvaro Ínsua went to his grave without receiving due recognition, an injustice that I am attempting to correct, inspired by the initial quote above (in chapter 1) from PROVERBS (31:8-9), in Spanish:  Levanta la voz por los que no tienen voz!"

 

NOTE FOR CHAPTER 3

  (12)   I was heading the Federal Region II Office of the U.S. Education Dept., led then in Washington by Lauro Cavazos, the first Hispanic on the U.S. Cabinet; Region II encompasses New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  I am proud to report that Álvaro’s was one of the toughest interviews I ever had.


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 ---, 1985, “Cultural ideology and empirical reality--Case studies in contemporary law management,” in: A. Allot & G. Woodman, eds., PEOPLE'S LAW AND STATE LAW-- THE BELLAGIO PAPERS. Foris; pp.35-54

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 ---, 2014, “Antes del 'Período Especial'--¿utopía o distopía?”, DIARIO DE CUBA [Madrid], Jan./01/2014. 

 ---, 2015, “The Cuban Culture of Poverty Conundrum,” PANORAMAS, Feb./14/2015. Reprinted: CONGRESSIONAL RECORD [by Sen. Menéndez-D,NJ]; 03/17/2015; 161(45):S1583-84.

 ---  2019-a, “Some Parallels of two Caribbean Dictatorships,” PANORAMAS, June/26/2019.  

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 ---, ---, ---, 1980, Cuatro Hombres—Viviendo la Revolución. México: Mortiz.

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 ---, "Lewis, Oscar," AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY. Oxford Univ. Press

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