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

Polemica Intelectual 2007 / 2007 Intellectual Debate: An Introduction

The Intellectual Debate

In January and February 2007, a series of texts circulated through emails among many Cuban intellectuals.  These emails formed a virtual historic debate on Cuba’s cultural policies over the previous 48 years.

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, an English translation.  Hopefully the entire body of communications will be translated, providing an invaluable resource to observers and scholars of Cuba.

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 invaluable resource for a broader understanding of Cuban history.

Here is a link to a contemporary article about the Intellectual Debate, in English.

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

Messages of Desiderio Navarro / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

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

Message from Ramiro Guerra / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

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.

Ramiro Guerra

Translated by GH

About Alfredo Guevara’s Words / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate, Maria de las Mercedes Santiesteban

The first thing you notice about the document presented by Alfredo Guevara is its dreadful wording. A man, who has always prided himself on his clarity and intelligence, has written a text which is hard to read, repetitive and unoriginal. The first, very long, paragraph demonstrates this:

The Writers and Artists Union of Cuba [UNEAC] interprets and takes on that ethical, Martiana [pertaining to the ideas of José Martí] and Fidelista [pertaining to the ideas of Fidel Castro] lesson, of opposing, by use of its authority and prestige, the impunity of that abuse of power demonstrated by our television in trampling on its ethical obligations and developing or trying to advance a plan which is in opposition to the cultural policy of the Revolution, a policy of respect and praise for creative freedom and intellectual work, and the intellectual qualities which make it possible.

It isn’t clear what is “the plan which is in opposition to the cultural policy of the Revolution”. Up to now, what they were criticising and questioning was, in the first place, the appearance of the “grey triad” composed of Pavón-Serguera-Quesada and everything they might stand for in terms of a set-back to the national culture. Guevara goes off on another track and accuses the television of “trampling on its ethical obligations”; practically accusing them of being traitors although he quickly makes it clear that all the programs dreamed up by the “great communicator” are just fine: he does not want people to in any way to misunderstand what he is saying.

Further on, another confusing paragraph:

“… it is the people who deserve to be, who are, and who must be, the real protagonists in the war of ideas, if an instrument, which has ended up being usurped in certain respects, is not to develop another campaign of praising vulgarity, imitating the worst programs put out by the Empire (the US), and which favours the destruction of our language, which is the reflection of the clarity, structure and exercise and expression of thought.”

Why? On the basis of what premises? We don’t know.

Guevara never mentions the names of Pavón-Serguera-Quesada, nor acknowledges any awareness that the centre of the debate is the general cultural policy of the country; many want to take it further than that, and demand that the problems in the production sector are looked at. Guevara directs his attack at television, which seems like a good idea to me, because a large part of the programming is rubbish and vulgar.

But where has Guevara been all this time? Why has he decided to criticise it now if this problem has existed for years? Why is he diverting, or trying to divert, the centre of the debate? Could it be because he is afraid that the snowball is growing too big and that, in a moment of such tension, unprecedented in the history of these forty nine years, people are going to question the very essence of the system, as happened in 1991 during the phony and manipulative “Appeal to the 4th Party Congress”?

Cuban television is a ruthless media, intolerably politicised, with a rigid news bulletin structure and the added irritation that every time they want to do so – which has been frequently – they interrupt the simple entertainment programs to insert the transmission of long boring political events. Many people leave the television switched on, without sound, waiting patiently until the function ends and the soap opera starts. But, as far as the people who direct the television are concerned – who are not the directors of the television but the ideologues, or The Ideologue, of the Party – that doesn’t matter very much.

In order to get a bit of fresh air, people have invented lots of ways of avoiding the tedious official refrains. I remember that in 1993 Havana was filled with home-made satellite dishes which, angled towards the Habana Libre Hotel, caught the Miami channels. This was abruptly interrupted because the government was not going to put up with the people having a different source of information. Continue reading

Conference for Over-40s in the Casa de las Americas / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate, Isbel Diaz Torres

Yes, it would appear that the themes discussed yesterday at the Casa de las Américas [an institution in Havana to promote inter-cultural links with other countries <transl.>] were not of interest for the future of Cuban culture and thought. It seems like they were trying to mend fences (with every justification) with some of the victims of a period which was not just grey but invisible.

For many like me, knowledge of this part of our cultural history is limited to commentaries about some benchmarks and readings between the lines in essays and spaces such as those in magazines like Temas or Criterios. Nevertheless, the youngest artists, researchers, and intellectuals in general who wanted to attend had to be content with the iron barriers which were put up at our beloved Casa. “There isn’t space,” they said, and it was certainly true: there was no room for us in that coterie.

The sad thing in all this is that perhaps it would not have been like that, it is very possible that if they had asked our Desiderio if that was the auditorium he had in mind for his cycle of conferences, the reply would have been in the negative. And it isn’t because those who got in did not deserve to do so, but because those of us who were stuck outside would have had the right to attend as future makers of Cuban culture.

There are those who think that it was all just a problem of organisation, there are those who are more suspicious, but the fact of the matter is we couldn’t get in. How many invitations intended for members of the  Asociación Hermanos Saíz, did not go out from the National Council? Why did the UNEAC [Writers and Artists Union of Cuba] manage the entire organisational process, helping themselves to  an enormous quota? And what about the University of Havana? It’s very possible that half of the people who were inside, if they hadn’t been expressly invited, would have remained in their houses, and that is not as innocent a speculation as you might think. How concerned must they be about Cuban history and culture to go to such major and controversial conferences as are arranged by the Centro Teórico-Cultural Criterios [Criterios Theoretical-Cultural Center] and confront the faces of those who usually get in, the stares of those who yesterday were among the chosen?

Fortunately, deep-thinking people were also up there, people who, apart from their artistic merits, have always been in the habit of expressing their opinion, debating, confronting, being heretical. But that isn’t enough: we should also be there, and that doesn’t seem to me to require any more justification. One of those people excluded said that maybe it was better for us to be outside instead of inside, maybe we were playing our own particular part in the history; maybe, I would now say, we were demonstrating that that is not just about the past but also about our difficult present.

I welcome the entry of this debate into the schedule of the Cuban intellectuals, those who suffered the “Pavonato“, those of us who now gather the fruits of those injuries and perhaps confront others of a similar nature. I am confident that the seats at the upcoming conferences in this cycle will be available for those of us who are interested in listening so as to know what to do about the future of our culture. Continue reading

Message From Leonardo Acosta / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Since 1959 to the present, the ICRT has been characterized by being the media and cultural (????) organism that has enjoyed, or better yet suffered, the punishment of having the most mediocre and/or flailingly abusive and irresponsible leaders of the country, almost always ignorant of journalism and culture, or indifferent to both professions. That character “Papito” Serguera owned the strange privilege of having every single one of these “qualities,” which added to his anti-historical performance as a diplomat, which unfortunately has been forgotten, and that almost destroyed our friendship with one of the Third World countries most strongly tied to Cuba through the revolutionary processes of both countries and the first and hugely important internationalist mission from Cuba confronting the imperialist invasion against these brothers.

In the case of Luis Pavon, there are so many overt and covert accomplices that it’s not worth mentioning them here, but it is unarguable that his term at the head of National Council of Culture (CNC) for much more than a “five-year stint” only served to engender or at least prolong the state of “Blood, Sweat and Tears” in the national culture.

But the praise of both characters, now added to the frustrated, resentful and vengeful Torquesada [after the 15th century Spanish Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada] and the disastrous Congress of Education and Culture of 1971 is simply a disgrace and an insult to the memory of Jose Marti, Felix Varela and all our heroes and intellectuals.

This makes me think that there are sinister people behind this true campaign for the rehabilitation of the hit-men who have done so much damage to our country and the world prestige of the Revolution.  Who must we hold responsible for these excesses?

I estimate, first of all, the ICRT (Cuban Institute of Radio and Television).  I believe that as journalists, writers, artists, scientists, and of course the clear political minds that abound in our country, we have an obligation to unite to make them explain to us how it is possible that this lack of tact is permitted, with respect to the sensitivity that places us on the plane of certain countries of the South Cone under the power of people like the terrible Menem, champion of neoliberalism, with his so-called laws of pardon and forgetting toward the torturers.

Act quickly with tact and intelligence.

Leonardo Acosta

Link to original post
January 2007

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

One Year Later / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate, Yoani Sanchez

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The wheel of life doesn’t stop turning: Luis Pavon Tamayo died in Cuba, one of the Torquemadas of the infamous Five Grey Years.

One Year Later: Originally posted in January 2008

What pushed me to this adventure of writing a Blog was the bad taste left at the end of the controversy of the intellectuals in January 2007. On an afternoon like today, the 30th of January, we waited – a group of young people – to be able to enter the conference: “The gray five years, reviewing the term.”  The meeting in the House of the Americas would try to channel and institutionalize a debate that had been raising the temperature of Cuban emails for a couple of weeks already.  A select list of guests began entering the “Che Guevara Room,” while our “group of impertinents” watched, from outside, as midnight arrived.

We were there, obviously protestors, blocked by the custodians and the bureaucrats from entering, to debate and discuss our encounters with censorship and dogmatism.  We put a rhyme to a cadence as an appeal to the main organizer of the event: “Desiderio, Desiderio, hear my opinions,”  but that didn’t work either.  Inside, the voice of the Minister of Culture repeated the idea that in a place under siege, dissent is treason.  Meanwhile, on the same corner of G and the Malecon, the frustration of those who were not heard disintegrated into exhaustion and a mass return home.

A year later, I don’t know what we have left of those “Words of the Intellectuals” exchanged by email.  What is left to us from that package of complaints and demands that started as criticism of the political culture of the revolution and grew to a questioning of EVERYTHING?  I sense that the debate was hijacked by the institutions, jailed by an academic world full of concepts and fancy words, and condemned to take the course of the imminent conference of the UNEAC [Cuban Writers and Artists Union].

However, we were left - at least those of us who were outside - with the conviction that we can’t wait to be allowed inside the next debate. To me, personally, it added a definite push to start this exorcism called “Generation Y.”  It gave me the spatula for the long contained vomit (sorry for the nasty metaphor) that has fallen resoundingly over this Blog.

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Here is a small text about the “Intellectual Debate,” a point of rupture that marked my life in Generation Y. // The punishment of the censors, of the Torquemadas from so many eras, is the in the end some of their victims end up being more free than them.

26 May 2013