René Vázquez Díaz, Sweden, 2007 — Last year, during a period of several months, personalities committed to the politics of cultural repression during the 1970s were interviewed on various Cuban television programs. The reappearance on the small screen of odious characters who call to mind the ferocity of mechanisms geared against creativity, art and human dignity, culminated this past 5 January with a five-minute interview of Mr. Luís Pavón Tamayo, who led the National Cultural Council between 1971 and 1976, and who the majority of Cuban writers believed was physically and politically deceased. Continue reading
Your message to Desiderio has motivated me to add some ideas to this debate, which, to my taste, has left us with an excess of words in the middle of a desert of actions. Compared with the richness of ideas and reflections that have been heard, the last UNEAC declaration borders on the outrageous, due to its greyness and shallowness. On the other hand, I think you are the only one from the critics’ guild who seems to have gained a level of sensitivity regarding the controversy, such that I am grateful that in your writing you make it clear that what you call civic responsibility also concerns those of us who are trying to be mindful about Cuban cinema.
I wish to ponder a couple of the things in your reflection. Those that are not concerned with the anecdote, but rather to that way of assuming our lives which has become for us something natural. I think that a hundred years can go by and still no Cuban (be he or she from Havana or Miami, Camagüey or Madrid) will ever leave aside that Hollywood-style vision of life, where those who don’t agree with our own opinions are the villains, and only the ones who think exactly like us are the only ones to be trusted. We all know that this is nonsense, but we have become hardline with regard to that concept. It is almost an addiction. Continue reading
This debate seems far more serious and interesting than the candles feeding the shadows of a study, in this I agree with Arturo Arango. I have no time to sit and watch TV, I saw the little program. And I doubted, for when the pavonato took place, I was a child and didn’t suffer it directly. It touched others, more recent, in the eighties.
But this man of the seventies, I hadn’t seen his face. It drew my attention that whomever make the report skirted around, olympically, the fact that Pavón was the President of the National Council of Culture. Nor did the narrator’s voice dare to name the charge! Continue reading
CULTURE-CUBA: Exorcising the Ghosts of the Past
– The expansion of a debate among a group of intellectuals in Cuba that began as an e-mail discussion at the beginning of the year would seem to demonstrate the need to bury once and for all the cultural restrictions of the past and open up spaces for dialogue, debate and diversity.
“The fear has been shaken off,” Cuban writer Arturo Arango, one of the participants in the e-mail exchange, told IPS. “It is clear that that past will not return. Neither we writers and artists nor the country’s institutions will allow it to.”
The e-mail conversation, which has broadened beyond its initial focus, has also transcended borders, incorporating voices from the Cuban diaspora as well as people from other countries. Continue reading
It isn’t possible to accept this kind of “indiscretion and naiveté,” to name it euphemistically, in times like the ones we are living in now. I know, as always, you will be profound, accurate, destructive and–as Marti was–with deaf ears. Count me as one more crusader.
The patient and very painful reconstruction of cultural ruins, but above all human ruins, that we found ourselves forced to live through and try to overcome, cannot have been in vain.
Backwards, brother, as one of our revolutionary slogans reads, not even to regain momentum. Accepting that would mean, as Mayito says, regressing and this, to which we have given the best of each one of us, is a Revolution based and conceived on two simple and profound words: dignity and justice; and we must continue fighting for them.
Translated by: Kathy Fox
A FILM by JESUS HERNANDEZ-GUERO
By Ambrosio Fornet / See here for background information on this series of posts.
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
The Intellectual Debate
In January and February 2007, a series of texts circulated through emails among many Cuban intellectuals. Coming to be known as “The little war of emails,” or “The Intellectual Debate,” these emails formed a virtual historic debate on Cuba’s cultural policies over the previous 48 years.
The email exchange followed the appearance on several TV programs of Luis Pavón Tamayo, Armando Quesada and Jorge Serguera, all of whom were closely involved in designing and enforcing the rigid cultural parameters that negatively affected so many writers and artists in Cuba in the 1970s: a longer discussion and other links are here.
A contemporary article by Dalia Acosta, CULTURE-CUBA: Exorcising the Ghosts of the Past, discusses the Intellectual Debate in English.
It is important to remember that in 2007 Internet access was extremely limited in Cuba, including access to email. Hence, much of the debate took place among Cubans in the diaspora who had normal access to the Internet.
The digital magazine Consenso collected this email debate and posted it in one place. Translating Cuba is working, email by email, author by author, volunteer translator by volunteer translator, on an English translation. Hopefully the entire body of communications will be translated, providing an invaluable resource to observers and scholars of Cuba, working in English.
The following text is a translation of the Introduction to the Intellectual Debate posted on the Consenso website.
Introduction from Consenso website
As is well known, it all started when the young writer Jorge Angel Perez sent a message expressing his surprise and displeasure at the appearance on Cuban television of several people who, in the decade of the 1970s, played a leading role in one of the darkest periods of national culture. Almost immediately the essayist Desiderio Navarro, the art critic and writer Orlando Hernández, and the writers Antón Arrufat, Reinaldo Gonzalez and Arturo Arango joined the controversy by sending emails that circulated among hundreds of addresses within and outside Cuba.
The portfolio shown here contains over one hundred participants, many of whom sent more than one message. Appearing here are those who wrote from within Cuba, and those who joined in from abroad, the signatures of leading figures as well as those of the unknown, along with no shortage of pseudonyms. There are texts, photos and cartoons; they are from academics, the passionate, and people from every side. The sources are varied, from the newspaper Granma to the digital magazine Encuentro en la red, but fundamentally we have received the generous help of friends who have passed on the messages they received.
To facilitate searching, each debater has a page with all of their messages organized chronologically, and from within each page the reader will be able to see a dynamic index of the other participants, organized alphabetically by first name.
A note on the translations
These translations have been prepared by volunteer translators working through the HemosOido.com cooperative translation site. These texts are, in many cases, written at least in part in the “formalized” language of intellectual debate. They also include numerous references to people and events not introduced or explained here. And, of course, they are rich with “Cubanisms” and playful use of the language. All of this is a huge challenge to our volunteers, and we are all doing “the best we can.” We welcome comments, corrections, clarifications. Please consider these translations no more than a “rough guide” to the debate, which certainly merits the skills of professional academic translators; hopefully one day that, too, will come to pass!
That said, there are many who have questioned why we are even bothering “to translate these old emails no one cares about.” Because WE care about them and think they are an critical resource for a broader understanding of Cuban history, and, in particular, the history of what will ultimately be Cuba’s transition to a 21st century democracy.
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
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
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.
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
Translated by GH
Dear Friends and Comrades:
Suddenly, more than thirty years after his dismissal, Luis Pavón, ex-president of the National Council of Culture during the euphemistically called “Five Grey Years,” reappeared in the public sphere on nothing more nor less than an entire programme on National Television dedicated to “his cultural impact on Cuban culture.”
So, was what we saw and heard yesterday Luis Pavón’s impact on Cuban culture?
Or is it someone else who irreversibly damaged the lives of the great and less great creators of Cuban culture, “defined as unacceptable” in one way or another? Who blocked the creation of many artistic performances and the dissemination of many works of literature and art in Cuba and abroad? Who forever deprived us of innumerable works because of the almost inevitable forced self-censorship that followed the abundantly fertile ’60s? Who filled an entire period with a dismal literary and artistic production now justifiably forgotten by those who championed it and bestowed awards upon it in days gone by? Who flooded us with the worst of the contemporary culture of the countries of Eastern Europe, not letting us know about the most creative and profound of them? Who in the short or long term built up the resentment and even caused the emigration of many of these creators who were not revolutionaries though they weren’t counterrevolutionaries, whose apprehension Fidel had tried to assuage in “Words to the Intellectuals”? [A book published in 1972 – Ed.] Who created and inculcated styles and neo-Zhadov cultural doctrines that took decades to eradicate, as they had come to be “normal.” [The Andrei Zhdanov cultural doctrine, developed in Soviet Russia in 1946, required all artists to conform to the Communist Party line in their work – Ed.] Perhaps we are really a country with such a short memory that we no longer remember the painful state to which our national cultural institutions were reduced by the efforts of the National Council of Culture, which was captured by Cuban humour at the time in a trio of sendups: “If you don’t listen to the Council, you won’t live to be old,” “There is no strength in numbers,” and “A wooden knife in the House of the Americas?”
It is true that Pavon was not always the main driver, but neither was he simply obeying orders. Because to this day an important mystery has not been explained or clarified: How many wrong decisions were taken “higher up” on the basis of information, interpretations and assessments of works, creators and events provided by Pavón and his associates of that time, on the basis of their diagnoses and predictions of supposedly serious threats and dangers originating from the cultural environment? Continue reading
I have just received your message about Pavon’s unbelievable appearance on national television a few days ago; I saw the commercial for it, but I couldn’t bring myself to get unnecessarily irritated by watching him in view of the revulsion I feel for this man. He is in the habit of coming out from time to time like a phantom from the dead, in important places, and then disappearing afterwards. A few years ago he turned up in the corridors at UNEAC [Writers and Artists Union of Cuba] and I let Aurora Bosch know, who was the then president of the Dance Section, that she could not count on my presence there as long as that person was walking around the floors of UNEAC.
Some time passed, which I have forgotten about now, and she let me know that he had disappeared and I could return to the institution. I didn’t bother looking for the programme in which the person would appear, unconsciously rejecting the possibility which you now point out, that “a revival” may occur with the additional appearance of the deservedly-forgotten Serguera, partner-in-crime of the cultural disaster of the 70’s. All that had to happen was for him, whose name I have forgotten, to appear, take the reins of the performing arts at that sad opportunity, and he swept the theatre into the shadow of the Revolution. The dance also suffered the setback of making me disappear, although, strangely, I believe that I was one of the few who kept a salary which should have gone to pay into a ghostly bag which was created and was kept going for various years in equally phantasmal parts of the area of the National Opera Council.
Important names from the theatrical movement were “peremptorily” sent to the Ministry of Work, where the only options for work they had was filling holes in the road or digging graves in the cemetery. The puppet theatre was mercilessly destroyed and its beautiful puppets were sent to Cayo Cruz to the rubbish dump which then existed in the bay. And the Camejos were especially harassed and erased from the national culture.
Meanwhile, my work, el Decálogo del Apocalipsis, which was supposed to have opened, according to the invitation printed in beautiful bright red with the date 15th April 1971, after a year’s hard work and enormous expense in costumes and scenery and should have been an important milestone in the development of contemporary dance in Cuba, and whose absence has been regretted by following generations of art school graduates in this area, who lost the model dances I promoted over 12 years and which marked the successful development of a dance movement rooted in a national identity but also informed by the vanguard movements of the era.
A lot has been written about this phenomenon by the choreographers who followed me, especially Marianela Boan, inheritor of my creative work with her group Danzabierta.
What you have told me in the message I received has opened my eyes to the danger, which seems fundamental in these days of possible changes in the direction of the country’s cultural policy, of the appearance of those phantoms from the past who want to return in an opportunistic search for new laurels.
The fact that the national tv dragged them out of the grave of oblivion gives us notice of a new storm.
Translated by GH