Carlos Ripoll, now resident in Miami, is professor emeritus of the City University of New York.
FALSIFYING history is one traditional way totalitarian governments justify seizing power and imposing political systems alien to a nation's history or tradition.
The first thing people in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did to reassert their independence was to recapture their past, toppling the monuments and discarding the perverse official histories of communist mythology.
In the wake of the worldwide collapse of communism, Cuban authorities have found it expedient to intensify their systematic adulteration of Cuban history so as to offer a nationalistic rationale for their perpetuation in power.
Because the most prominent exponent of the revolutionary tradition in Cuba is Jose Marti, falsifying his thoughts and doctrines has been the first priority of the island's official historians. For 35 years the Cuban government has waged a relentless ca mpaign to demonstrate that Marti was a forerunner of Castro's dictatorial regime. By invoking Marti as the symbolic architect of the 1959 revolution, Cuban communists justify their abuses of power and violations of human rights.
The confusion surrounding Marti that has resulted from this manipulation of his life and teachings in Cuba can be seen in a report issued by the University of Havana. It concludes: ``The knowledge which young people have about Marti is very poor, super ficial, and at times schematic. . . . We have heard elementary school teachers misrepresent as Marti's, texts that were not his. . . . Many of the young know Marti as the ``intellectual author'' of the Moncada barracks attack [the first battle of Castro's revolution], but they cannot place him in the correct historical period . . . as was an answer commonly given on surveys: `Fidel Castro freed Marti from prison . . . ' ''
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx explained: ``Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please. . . . In such periods of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their ser vice, and borrow from them names, battle cries, and customs in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.''
In 1984, George Orwell depicted the central role that the falsification of history, as outlined by Marx, played in the creation of the Stalinist state. ``He who controls the present, controls the past; and whoever controls the past, controls the future ,'' He wrote. Orwell was right: Whoever controls what an individual says, reads, and thinks can shape the past to suit his present ends and take the future hostage. Then, having made history his servant, he can reduce all men to servitude.
In Cuba, the Center for Marti Studies, an adjunct of the Ministry of Culture, coordinates all facets of the falsification of Marti and attempts to provide a ``scientific basis'' for it.
The campaign is not limited to the collaborationist intelligentsia. German historian Ottmar Ette recounts in a recent book his experience with an elderly official tour guide, who insisted that the monument to Marti in the Plaza de la Revolucion -- form erly the Plaza Civica -- had been built by Castro.
``I was under the impression that it was built before the revolution,'' Dr. Ette ventured. Whereupon the tour guide countered: ``You should not believe imperialist propaganda.''
The truth is that the Marti monument was completed before 1959, and indeed Castro gave most of his first speeches in front of it after entering Havana that year.
Of course, visitors to the island are seldom as well informed as Dr. Ette or as willing to challenge the assertions of purveyors of disinformation.
On a recent trip to Havana, two New York Times journalists, Robin Chotzinoff and Eric Dexheimer, visited the former Presidential Palace, now transformed into the Museum of the Revolution, which they credulously describe as ``an ornate palace originally built for the sniveling `puppet,' Fulgencio Batista.''
Whatever else Batista may deserve for his criminal blunders, which opened the way for Castro, he still deserves the truth. The Presidential Palace was inaugurated 75 years ago during the administration of Cuban President Mario G. Menocal.
But the most fragrant transgression of the truth in the article, Last of the Red-Hot Reds [New York Times magazine, Aug. 11] concerns Marti. The caption on a photograph accompanying the piece reads: Wax Heroes: Sculptures of Jose Marti and Che Guevara. The wax ``hero'' dressed as a guerrilla fighter side by side with Guevara is not Jose Marti but Camilo Cienfuegos, one of Castro's closest lieutenants. He was killed in a mysterious plane crash in late 1959. These inexcusable mistakes epitomize the succe ssful results of Cuba's despicable and well-orchestrated campaign to falsify Cuban history.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.