Cuban Writer Wendy Guerra Honored With France’s Order of Arts and Letters / 14ymedio

The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)
The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – Cuban writer Wendy Guerra has been named an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by France’s Ministry of Culture. The recognition in one level higher than the Order’s knighthood, which she was awarded in 2010.

“France is my second home and the place where my voice resonates with great force despite the silence I suffer on my beloved island of Cuba,” said the novelist in her Facebook account.

Guerra is the author of several novels, including Todos se van (Everyone Leaves), 2006; Nunca fui Primera Dama (I was never First Lady), 2008; Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Naked in Havana), 2010 – an apocryphal diary of Anais Nin – Negra (Black Woman), 2013; and her most recent, Domingo de Revolución (Revolution Sunday).

Upon receiving news of the award, the novelist thanked her “readers, editors, translators, critics and colleagues” in France, a nation which she described as “wonderful, cultured, passionate.”

Among the Cubans who have previously received the Order of Arts and Letters, are the poet and essayist Nancy Morejon, Cuba’s Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, the writer Zoe Valdes and the novelist Leonardo Padura.

Wendy Guerra: The Most Unbearable Thing in Cuba is Lack of a Free Press / EFE, 14ymedio

The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)
The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (from 14ymedio), Barcelona, 4 May 2016 — The Cuban writer Wendy Guerra, who has just published the novel Domingo de Revolution (Revolution Sunday), a sort of autofiction on her imagined Cuba, said with regards to the future of her country, “to be healed, the wounds must be named.”

Guerra has revealed that she began writing the novel on the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to whom it is dedicated and whose death she received as ‘the death of an intellectual left,” and she finished it when Raul Castro reached an agreement with United States president Barack Obama.

“Obama, an African-American, but also, in the end, an Afro-Cuban, came to the island, charmed us, and now we have to find another enemy, one who is not Cuban,” adds Guerra, who was born in 1970 in Havana. continue reading

The writer, who continues to live in Cuba, considers herself fortunate to have been a student at Garcia Marquez’s workshop “How to tell a story,” in San Antonio de los Baños: “Gabo gave me the gift of his literature, as he did to everyone, but to me he also gave the gift of a trip to the world.”

Her relationship with Gabo and with Silvio Rodriguez has been “the only proof of democracy” she has had in Cuba, she confesses, and adds, “They have a way of talking with me and my own point of view, and I want my country to work this way.”

Guerra believes that “blogs and local papers have exposed many pains with this provincialism, but we have to prepare something and have something to talk about anywhere, because if we don’t we get together and we can’t put forward what our country should be.”

Aware that in Cuba “they will not allow us that,” Wendy Guerra writes these books, which are “spaces for dialogue.”

During her presentation in Barcelona, Wendy Guerra did not tire of demanding “dialogue and dialogue” and she hopes that, as has been said many times, “in the future, the Cuban exile and Cubans on the island are condemned to understand each other.”

The author of Everyone Leaves, winner of the 2006 Bruguera prize, believes that something is changing in Cuba and pointed to a possible turning point that occurred “at the moment (Leonardo) Padura asked why Trotsky’s murderer went to live to Cuba.”

She expressed her gratitude to her Spanish publisher and its Latin American branches, because “they are greatly helping the discussion in Cuba of what cannot be discussed,” and “the value of Domingo de Revolución has been to find a poetic voice to explain such difficult things.”

Domingo de Revolución (Anagram) began as a short story, which was entitled “The Spy” and sent to Ana Maria Moix, who invited her to turn the story into a novel.

The starting point was “the belief that there was a CIA agent on the island, while the exile thought he was being trained by Cuban intelligence to blow up the intelligentsia in exile.”

Guerra speaks of her country from autofiction and plays with the reader using the confusion between the author and the protagonist of her novel, Cleo, a young woman poet living in Havana who has found international success and who narrates the end of a long revolutionary process of nearly 60 years.

“Cleo could have existed from the 60s to now; she is a contemporary Joan of Arc, a domestic heroine,” summarizes Guerra, who shares with her character, “a great respect for the exile, because it hurts us,” but distances herself from her protagonist: “I am neither a heroine nor a victim, I have a great deal of fear.”

Of the difficulties Guerra experiences in her country, the least bearable is “not having a press that reports the reality,” and when she travels to promote her novels outside the country, she feels Spanish journalists represent “their own point of view, in the face of this absence at home.”

As a good poet, she uses lyrical images to describe her narrative. “It’s like when, at the end of summer, you go back to a deserted beach filled with footprints and in my writing I try to identify these footprints, to know who they belonged to.”

Hay Festival Suspends Its Event In Havana / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

Wendy Guerra was among Cubans excluded from the Havana Hay Festival as reported by artists in exile. (Casa de America)
Wendy Guerra was among Cubans excluded from the Havana Hay Festival as reported by artists in exile. (Casa de America)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 21 January 2016 – For now, Cuba will not celebrate the Hay Festival planned for this coming week in Havana, as confirmed by the event organizers. The Hay Festival originated in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye in 1988, and since 1996 has been celebrated in several foreign cities, among them Kells (Ireland), happening now, Segovia (Spain), Mexico City, Arequipa (Peru) and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia).

The news that the Cuban capital would host a Hay Festival event as a part of the Hay Festival in Cartagena was announce in the first week of December, along with the controversy that accompanied that announcement. According to complaints from artists in exile, the festival organizers had proposed names of Cuban authors, among them Wendy Guera, Ena Lucia Portela and Yoani Sanchez, but “the pressure on the organizers from the Ministry of Culture finally forced them to not be included in the program.” Another source said that the organization simply accepted “an official list” that was presented to them. continue reading

Asked about the issue, the Hay Festival organization flatly refused to accept any kind of censorship, saying that the program in Havana was not closed, and that although there was still no final guest list, conversations with the Cuban Book Institute went “very well.” Cristina Fuentes, director of the Hay Festival for Latin America said, “We have suggested foreign participants, talking with Cubans and the suggestions are all first-rate.” She emphasized, “There is no censorship nor problems right now.”

On 24 December the Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported that the Havana Hay Festival would take place on 25-26 January. Quoting Jesus David Curbelo, the director of the Dulce Maria Loynaz Cultural Center and “one of the organizers of the event for Cuba,” the ACN confirmed that it was, ”just an experiment” and that there would be “two key events: literary workshops in the morning and author talks in the afternoon.”

The international guest list included Daniel Mordzinski, Andrés Trapiello, Jon Lee Anderson, Guadalupe Nettel and Hanif Kureishi, while Cuban guests included Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Antón Arrufat, Mirta Yáñez, Reynaldo González, Marilyn Bobes, Dazra Novak and Rafael Grillo. Conspicuous by their absence were authors living in Cuba who had participated in other versions of the Hay Festival, such as Wendy Guerra, Ena Lucia Portela and Yoani Sanchez.

In addition, the ACN mentioned that the Hay Festival was being promoted by Bogota 39, an initiative that in 2009 brought together 39 young Latin American writers under 40, “all with one or more works published and read in their countries, but unknown beyond their borders,” forgetting that one of these was Wendy Guerra.

An official cable echoed the Spanish agency EFE, and hence, the Mexican newspaper El Universal and the Colombian magazine Arcadia. However, the Hay Festival did not comment publicly and insisted to 14ymedio, “The program is not yet closed.” Their idea, they said, was “to start with something very small and grow,” adding, “We don’t have to include all the Cuban authors the first year.”

By that time the controversy had jumped to the social networks. The Twitter account @HayFestivalCuba, now cancelled, denounced the planned event, saying “No to censorship at the Havana Hay Festival.” Some tweets were directed to the guests themselves according to the list published by the official press, such as the journalist Jon Lee Anderson and the writer Hanif Kureishi. Also participating in the exchanges on Twitter were the Mexican musician Armando Vega Gil, and the Barcelona writer Lolita Bosch.

This Tuesday, Cristina Fuentes told 14ymedio that the Hay Festival has postponed the project in Havana. “It is complicated for a number of reasons and we are going to leave it for another year,” she said, without clarifications. In a more extensive message, she said: “The organization of an event like this can only be done if the conditions are right for its realization, which could not be guaranteed, so we are not going to go forward with the project. It is because of this that our organization is not announcing, right now, the scheduling of this series of events on the island.” Fuentes concluded, “We would love to work in Cuba and hope it will be possible in the future.”

Defined as a non-profit company, the Hay Festival aims, according to its website, for the “dissemination of literature at local and international levels to promote dialogue and cultural exchange, education and development”, but has not been without controversy. In February 2015, it canceled the event that had been held in Xalapa, Veracruz since 2011, after pressure from Mexican intellectuals who denounced the partisan use of the festival by the government of Veracruz, and noted that 11 journalists had been killed and four others had disappeared in that Mexican state.

Naming the Wounds / Wendy Guerra

In the Cuba of the 1970s and 1980s, gays chose furtive relationships and often lead double lives to avoid repression. Roberto Koltun El Nuevo Herald
In the Cuba of the 1970s and 1980s, gays chose furtive relationships and often lead double lives to avoid repression. Roberto Koltun El Nuevo Herald

Wendy Guerra, Havana, 9 January 2016 (from El Nuevo Herald) – It wasn’t hard to know the number of my friends who, during their childhoods, remained with their parents in special situations, parents who needed to hide who they were to survive in a country that, based on accusations, ceased to be one, but turned itself into a province.

What were the parents of several friends hiding?

Why did they live a life contrary to their desires?

What was the threat that forced them to remain in such a pointless situation?

Was it something more than social prejudice?

Everything seemed normal but it wasn’t. Any sharp little girl could detect that many of her friends lived in a particular situation. Several of their parents were married, yes, trapped in the same cage, but each one was looking elsewhere. continue reading

Sometimes returning from late night meetings with my mother, and crossing the dark park, I saw several of those parents succumb into the arms of other men waiting there in the night. I am speaking of the free zone of lust that Reinaldo Arenas masterfully refers to.

They were the same parents but immersed in the secret intoxication of their desire.

Some mothers also were not spared such a fate and, in love with those who were forbidden, decided to postpone their love life and occupy a house, a chair, a job, a vocation, while love happened in their head. Many of my friends’ mothers had that special someone who saved them from the vacuum (their best friend), but fear prevented them from taking the leap. They grew old without living their real life.

I remember the atmosphere of some of these homes, small marble tables with art nouveau lamps, paintings of Servando Cabrera Moreno, silver ashtrays, linen tablecloths, framed pearl fans, collections of samovars, stuffed birds and butterflies, reproductions of San Sebastián wounded and suffering, and a piano lost in the corner where someone drowned his mannerisms or let them flow to abandon. The CMBF station, National Musical Radio, played all day, and this opera competed day and night with the reality trying to sneak in through the window.

What ghosts held them prisoner? I can mention two of the most terrible and most complex experiences, but there were many laws of “parametración” and Revolutionary Offensives that embroidered the universe of inventions for repression.


Three of the parents of my classmates had survived the UMAP forced labor camps. But survive does not mean recover, survive does not mean forget. Paying for possessing a certain intellectual affectation, long hair, or the need to love someone of the same sex.

Nor could they get a permit to leave the country, so they chose to marry and so pretend that their sexual preferences had changed.

A little later, about 1985, came the experience of confinement for having AIDS. Total imprisonment in “Los Cocos” sanatorium on the outskirts of Havana.

Again they knock on your door and again you drag you from your home without your consent. An ambulance, a police deployment. Nurses, paramedics. You’re no longer your own master. How did they manage to track you down?

You are entered on a list of the infected, maybe you show up in a phonebook of the infected. So it was with some of my friends’ parents. Not all, but many lived in fear. Fear of a cure of body and soul.

What were the consequences?

I belong to the generation born in 1970, such that when you try to be happy it still calls to mind that almost genetic fear. I’m of that generation that broke with everything, and there’s the answer to those who ask why do so many homosexuals surface, so many young bisexuals showing their love openly in the streets, clearly saying enough is enough.

Those born after 1980 have no more reference than their need to be happy, very few of them need to come out of the closet because they were born already out of it.

Last November marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the shameful UMAP. Of course this is not spoken of in the official internal debates. It was also the 30th anniversary of the forced detention of hundreds of people, gay or not, infected or not, because of the arrival of the first case of AIDS on the island.

The few who dare to say they officially participated as managers of these programs say they were designed in the name of national security.

Poor the country that prevents the love of its citizens as a form of defense.

Pity the country that believes that separating homosexuals, heterosexuals or human beings who need devotion as a form of relating that will make them free, make them sovereign, make them revolutionize anything.

The best way to restore and free our souls from these terrible events that castrated us forever is being who we are.

Accepting ourselves, naming the wounds, saying what hurts us to then heal us.

Being in “The Packet” / Wendy Guerra

A man with a pack over his shoulder walks down a Havana street.
A man with a pack over his shoulder walks along a Havana street. (EFE)

Wendy Guerra, Habáname, 15 December 2014 — About three years ago, a young man – tall, blond and ungainly – would haul an enormous sack full of DVDs of pirated movies, music videos, TV shows and series. Today, this same young man – now more poised and better dressed – walks the streets of Miramar with a small memory stick in his pocket, dispensing information to any of the households that can pay 15, 5 or, most commonly, 10 CUCs [Cuban convertible pesos] per week to download the latest broadcast content from international channels. For those who are unable to pay this fee, for those who lack the necessary resources, there are the memory devices that we record and distribute. This happens week after week in every Havana neighborhood.

“The Packet.” This is what we locals call the mountain of information that, on a weekly basis, the anticipated visitor sells and distributes to relieve the Cuban people’s dearth of options for visual references and news sources. continue reading

Updates of or – sites so useful for buying and selling home electronics, food, medicine, clothing and items of all kinds for the island’s resistance, advertisements for paladares (restaurants) and animal clinics, rentals of privately-owned vehicles and beauty shops – all of these form part of the so-called “packet” in addition to premieres of audiovisual productions.

What’s curious about all of this is that many Cuban producers pay 15 CUCs for their productions to be added to the local packet, the domestic one that arrives weekly at your door. This is how the great collage of images and words grows, not just with content from HBO or Channel 41, Univisión or Televisa, but also those productions which have been rejected by the ICAIC or which, because of contractual issues with co-producers, cannot immediately be seen in Cuban living rooms.

Dealer: “Please, I need to include in this week’s packet that movie by Padura*, and yours, too. If you get it for me, I’ll leave you a free month’s worth of programming. Everybody is asking for these movies and they’re driving me crazy. Do you have them already? Are they good?”

Producer: “Sure, here they are.”

This is how the popular information “combo” is sustained on a national scale.

The thing is, “being in the packet” is an honor for those writers, artists, producers and actors who must wait for the approval of institutions such as ICAIC. Meanwhile, this delay tyrannically closes the possibility for excellent films such as “Return to Ithaca”* being available to the public – that is, we who think that we still control what we can view and comment-on. Poor us!

The packet is our access to the sea. To be in the packet is the best way to insert ourselves in the real life of thousands upon thousands of Cubans who want to know what is happening in their own environment.

“They” can control the movie houses because they own them, and these venues are subject to their arbitrary sense of vigilance. But in the privacy of our homes, in the personal space inside our heads, in the packet made a la carte and to order according to our needs, nobody can meddle.

Change happens, everything changes, and institutions start losing their meaning.

The packet: Free and domestic, kaleidoscopic informer, where we all wish to enter, as spectators or creators.

* Translator’s Note: This film, with a screenplay by noted Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, was censured by the Cuban government.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison