The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term / Ambrosio Fornet

By Ambrosio Fornet / See here for background information on this series of posts.

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It seemed as if the nightmare was something from a remote past, but the truth is that when we awoke, the dinosaur was still there. We haven’t found out — and perhaps will never know — if the media folly was a reaction to an insidious rescue operation, a whimsical expression of favoritism, or a simple show of irresponsibility.

It doesn’t matter. Seen from the perspective of today — the chain reaction it provoked, of which the cycle we are beginning is a link — it was a suicidal act. It threw down a challenge without having the slightest idea of the adversary’s level of expertise, nor of the solidity of a cultural policy that has reinforced itself like an irreversible phenomenon by means of practices that have been going on for three decades now.

This battle having been clearly won — I won’t say the war because the swaggering is not so much the expression of a political tactic as it is a world view based on suspicion and mediocrity — we can open a path to reflection telling ourselves, simply, that what is happening is fitting. We have proof of this in the decision of the Ministry of Culture to support Desiderio [Navarro]’s initiative, coinciding with Abel [Prieto]’s, insofar as filling the void of information and analysis which has prevailed up to now in the area of cultural — that is, anti-cultural — policy, since the first half of the seventies.

As incredible as it may seem, the person who directed the “Imprint” program dedicated to Pavon — whose script had been written by a friend — assured us that she didn’t know who the character was or, more exactly, that she didn’t know what “imprint” the character had left on Cuban culture during his term as President of the National Cultural Council.  Nor would she know it afterwards, because it was covered in a careful mantle of silence in the program. It wouldn’t do to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man. Continue reading

Messages from Jorge de Mello / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

The worthwhile exchange of ideas, so necessary to form a true state of opinion that finds solutions which are reasonable, satisfactory and intelligent–has finished. Today I received, after the meetings, this mysterious email in which one of the participating intellectuals in the debate (his name for now is XXXX) and everything seems to remain in a war between the ICRT and Mincult [Ministry of Culture], it is said that that is the tactical thing. Will we return to the anonymous message, to the rumor in the hallway, to the “politically correct”? Incredible!! That is the tactical thing?

ANSWER FROM XXX TO A RESPONSE OF MINE:

I believe that you are not mistaken in some of the things you say, but it seems to me that the matter is a little more complicated. And at this moment, I believe that the tactical thing is not to absolutely push against the Ministry of Culture which, after all, also has been attacked by the TV and those who are behind the appearance of Pavón and company.

From Jorge de Mello in response to Orlando Hernández

Landi:

I have received, literally with exclamations of joy, your letter to Arturo Arango. You have placed your finger in the trigger and your eye is on the real target. That’s the way to talk, brother, that’s it. Today I have been writing a similar thought, in terms of content and points of view, answering a letter to Abelardo Mena, but of course never with the conceptual clarity and formal quality that you do. That’s why I won’t send Mena my letter. I will send yours adding myself to the opinion. Continue reading

Marina Ochoa’s Messages / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Before anything else, please forgive me for entering so late into the discussion. My life is very complicated precisely because of the climate of indifference, incapacity and/or corruption that I see confirmed in all the applications to the housing “machine”. I am appalled! I mention it because in my opinion what brought an end to socialism in the countries in the East was the unpunished mixing up of interests on the part of those who became millionaires during the socialism, opportunism, corruption and repression. Criminals who went unpunished because of the absence of opportunity for criticism, debate and for a culture of criticism of course. Gorbachev and Yeltsin only delivered the coup de grace ... we should all think about that and those involved should take appropriate action.

I am not a theorist and am speaking to you on the basis of my principles and experiences.

I think it’s the moment to get to the essence, or rather, to other essences. First I want to talk about the demoralising effect of repression. And the confusion and paralysis it produces. That would partly explain why the response from the culture, on many occasions, did not display the necessary consistency. I know a lot about that. The assemblies for purging the School of Architecture (in the second half of the 60’s), in the middle of my adolescence, truly terrified and confused me. The lack of correspondence between the political debate, full of high-sounding ideas, and the meanness in practice bewildered me. I didn’t understand anything, I couldn’t articulate anything. I tasted the flavour of impotence. Many of the members of the “purification” tribunals are in exile. “Purification”, for God’s sake, seems like something imported from fascism!

Later, in the 70’s, it happened in the School of Journalism. I was a student of Eduardo Heras [Ed. note: Cuban short story writer] and the same thing happened again. In both places the devaluing of the human essence was part of the strategy. Then came a period in which it seemed we had suffered some kind of collective amnesia, from which we didn’t want to awake to avoid going through the story of our weakness? And then, a new low hit with Alicia … frustrated because she was responded to by the film producers and the members of the culture which supported us with principles, unity, coherence and firmness. We manage to sort out the differences between us, which exist, as they do everywhere and we declare a truce in the fighting in order to safeguard our cultural project, which we are still getting on with.

Now I ask those who cite our intellectuals for not answering forcefully at the given moment, is it better to march off into exile, which is anyone’s right, which I don’t question, rather than collect the fragments of our beings, feelings, hopes, and also our revolutionary existence and remain here, fighting in our own way, as best we can, to rescue a cultural project we believe in? We must respect the way each one of us fights, because we are all products of traumatic events which have overwhelmed us. I believe we have to express clearly and coherently what kind of country we want to have and what kind of culture. Therefore I propose we take up again the concepts which were current in the foundation period of the Revolution, later distorted by interpretations which were circumstantial, obtuse, opportunist and convenient for the Palabras a los Intelectuales [Ed. note: Words to the Intellectuals - famous speech of Fidel Castro’s in 1961, setting out his views on freedom of cultural expression] which unfortunately they use because of the lack of conceptual definitions.

Take up again “the inclination of the avant-guard, the freedom of expression, the independence of individual evolutions, the search for the roots of creative feeling and the attempt to make clear the spiritual values of man”, to be found in Origenes [Ed. note: Origins, a Cuban literary cultural magazine] and what Carlos Rafael Rodriguez (Hey! called “the prince of Cuban Marxism”) expressed on March 23, 1982 on the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Nuestro Tiempo society [Ed. note: Cuban cultural institution in the ’50’s].

I think we have to get the bogeyman of openness away from our cultural and political life.  The permanence of the Cuban Revolution is a symptom of the fact that our “specificities” are stronger than our “regularities”. We can’t delay any longer the culture of exercising opinion and debate, or we will pay dearly, even more so than up to now. Our people are the most defenceless in the world against the avalanche of neoliberal culture. We painstakingly modelled ourselves as passive recipients. As consumers, in all senses of the word of what they give us.

The battle of ideas should be this: a battle and I think this debate illustrates how it never should have been.

I hope I have contributed something to this debate. Big hug.

Marina Ochoa

Another message from Marina Ochoa to Gustavo Arcos Fernández-Brito.

 Dear Gustavo (Arcos Fernández-Brito):

I’ve been filming and I am getting prepared to start editing, and therefore although I have wanted to get in touch I haven’t had the time or the energy, so I end up with dispersed neurons.

The creation of a wailing wall for artists is bad news. They don’t understand anything. We say tweet tweet and they answer quack quack.

The 47 years in which the “vanguard of the proletariat” has been translated as the right to think for us, deciding for us whatever does or doesn’t suit us as individuals, family, nation, has corroded the capacity to use our judgement and has put us in the rearguard, while the thinking of our people has become more complicated, growing, and overflowing the society “designed” from above, which functions less each day; (the other, the underground, parallel or floating society which functions as a diversion, gives the lie to it every minute) but on the screens of our television, which often seems to be directed by Walt Disney, it appears as ideal.

The son of one of my nieces, 9-years-old, sighed while he was watching the national TV news, “I would like to live there!” Childish wisdom … and I swear to you I didn’t make this up.

I was very grateful to receive the intervention of the wonderful Colina and that of Belkis Vega [Ed. note: Cuban film producer]. Indispensable. I think that Criterios [Ed. note: Desiderio Navarro’s magazine, produced by the Centro Teorico Cultural] should collect everything they have expressed and bring out a number of the magazine and include what the 30 will produce. Certainly, knowing professionals of Belkis’ stature, in all senses of the word, professional, moral, humane, revolutionary, I can’t understand how it’s possible that her name does not position her to occupy roles such as the presidency of UNEAC [Cuban Writers and Artists Union], the presidency of ICAIC [Cuban Film Institute], as they are looking at the names of possible substitutes, all machos, men, masculine.

Colina refers to the responsibilities of Torquesada [Ed. note: Armando Quesada, member of the Stalinist National Council of Culture in the 70’s] in the ICRT [Cuban Institute of Radio & Television].

I also know that they made Torquesada adviser to the programme “Open Dialogue” following a negative report about the programme put out by this man, with a recommendation to take it off the air, which shows a very interesting practice: I put you in as adviser to someone you want to destroy and explain the drop in the quality of the debate in the said programme.

I won’t take any more of your time and congratulate you on your honesty and integrity

A hug

Marina Ochoa

Translated by GH

Luis Pavón, the Forgotten Official / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate, Alejandro Armengol

Luis Pavón in 1971. (Courtesy of the personal archive of Hamlet Lavastida.)

Luis Pavón in 1971. (Courtesy of the personal archive of Hamlet Lavastida.)

It’s not that Luis Pavón died without fanfare, it’s that he died officially forgotten. No one mentioned his death in the official Cuban press, no brief note, not even a moment on the cable news agency to record the fact. Another of the ironies of fate, history and politics — rhetoric doesn’t matter here — has been that there has been more comment from the exile, or at least mentions, of the end of someone who, with good reason, was considered and has always been considered a bastard. That he no longer exist does nothing to change that opinion. At least it’s consistent.

Pavón, was the director of the magazine Verde Olive (Olive Green). He was also the apparent author of a few texts under the name Leopoldo Avila — works that have also been attributed to José Antonio Portuondo, another mediocre Stalinist — which served to unleash terror in writers and artists at a time when dogmatism, mediocrity and foolishness was being imposed on much of Cuban literature. Without event becoming a kind of tropical Marat or Robespierre — not for lack of vocation, simply for lack of opportunities — this mediocre poet relentlessly tried to ruin the lives of various creators. He would get better at it during his presidency of the National Council of Culture between 1971 and 1976, when he could fully exercise his vocation as censor.

After his brief reign of cultural terror he passed not only into almost total obscurity but into rejection barely less absolute. Then he served as a pretext for one of the many plays with multiple roles that have happened on the island since 1959, when he appeared on a television show in 2007. It’s possible that the “little war of emails” — that followed that show — would benefit some; what’s certain is no one is disposed to repeat it now, not in the slightest skirmish. Perhaps, after everything, it has been fear, not of Pavón but simply of mentioning Pavón, that explains this momentary silence in the Cuban press.

There is also irony that it was Norberto Fuentes who reported the news to the exile. As it always happens: the censors end up depending on the censored. Too bad they never learn the lesson in time.

From Cuaderno de Cuba

27 May 2013

Luis Pavon Tamayo Dies, One of the Executors of Castro Censorship / Diario de Cuba

Luis Pavón in 1971. (Courtesy of the personal archive of Hamlet Lavastida.)

Luis Pavón in 1971. (Courtesy of the personal archive of Hamlet Lavastida.)

He chaired the National Council of Culture in the ‘70s, which marginalized hundreds of intellectuals and artists. He reappeared on TV in 2007 and caused the “little war of emails.”

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The political commissar Luis Pavón Tamayo, one of the executors of censorship in the ‘70s, died Saturday in Havana, according to the writer Norberto Fuentes who reported it in his blog.

On Sunday Fuentes wrote, “Recently he had felt depleted and said he felt like he was skin and bones. Midmorning he was sitting in an armchair in the indoor hall, at the front of the house, and his last act was to tilt his head on one shoulder.”

Pavón, who chaired the National Council of Culture between 1971 and 1976, is considered the main enforcer of the policy that censored and marginalized hundreds of intellectuals and artists, including José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera.

In 2007, Pavón made headlines when he appeared on a television show dedicated to glories of Cuban culture. His return sparked a wave of protests known as the “little war of emails.”

Pavón (born in Holguin in 1930) participated in the clandestine struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. After Fidel Castro’s coming to power he was editor of the magazine Verde Olivo (Olive Green) and contributor to other national publications. He published books of poetry and two novels.

From Diario de Cuba

26 May 2013