Theses Master's

The Role Of Preservation When The Physical Is Lost: Remembering The Tragedy Of UMAP, The Forced Labor Camps Of The Castro Regime

Villasante, Roberto E.

Centered around the tragic history of the “Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción” or UMAP forced labor camps in Cuba, active between 1965 and 1968, this thesis documents, explores, and interprets the challenges when standard historic preservation best practices come up against the loss of the physical historic fabric and standard definitions of integrity, limited site access and local advocacy, and a limited or inaccessible archival record. The goal is to demonstrate that historic preservation can serve a vital role in memorializing temporal spaces and narratives, beyond public history, through existing and new interpretive tools and techniques regardless of site access and extant/non-extant historic fabric.

Central to this discussion is the social context of this history. Due to the particular and differential treatment and experiences of gay men amongst UMAP internees, this thesis looks at these camps largely through a queer lens, with an understanding that this was not a purely queer experience. By amalgamating sources and testimonies to create a clearer picture of the built environment embedded with its queer histories, this thesis seeks to understand this history in a tangible way which has not yet been explored by historians.

The research presented culminates in recommendations for the preservation of UMAP through external tools which demonstrate how the physical and social memory can be effectively preserved when it cannot be done on site or through traditional preservation tools. This thesis aims to elevate the existing research and public-history-driven writings on the subject matter through the consideration of historic preservation and the analysis of the built environment within this historical context. Identifying and adapting concepts and existing tools from various preservation precedents, this recommendation suggests the use of an online database for the collection of UMAP research and oral histories as well as the interpretation of an imagined camp typology, outlining the physical arrangement of the various camps and how they affected the experiences of those imprisoned there. It is this typological camp which serves as the unique outlet for this thesis’ external preservation.

Through the use of an online database and imagined typological camp, the history of UMAP can be preserved and its story can be shared with the world at large. Within these preservation tools, the experiences of UMAP’s internees, from Catholic priests to Jehovah’s Witnesses to gay men, can be tied to the places in which they occurred. This form of interpretation can expand the understanding of this history and enrich its discourse. From broad discussions of physical conditions to more specified, nuanced discussions of gay life within the camps, an understanding of the built environment and its uses can paint a more complete picture of UMAP.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Lustbader, Ken Mitchell
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024