Cuban Filmmakers Mobilize Against Censorship / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says "censored" and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)
Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says “censored” and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 November 2015 – The G20 group of filmmakers voted unanimously at a meeting on Saturday in favor of supporting the filmmaker and playwright Juan Carlos Cremata by writing a letter denouncing the censorship of his work and the smear campaign against him.

The meeting had its most tense moment when an official of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) tried to expel from the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, activist Eliecer Avila of Somos+, who had come in response to an invitation to the public.

Near the end of the day, just before the vote, ICAIC director Roberto Smith and another official of the institute, Ramon Samada, tried to eject the leader of Somos+, saying that he was a “counterrevolutionary.” Several filmmakers argued that the meeting was “open to the public” to which Samada replied: “Yes, but not to counterrevolutionaries.” Continue reading “Cuban Filmmakers Mobilize Against Censorship / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

The critic Enrique Colina, who participated as a panelist at the event by reading his text On Censorship and its Demons, settled the incident saying that no one has the power to expel any of those present, “much less now,” arguing that they were creating a problem different from that that was being discussed.

Smith had read some pages before the beginning of the comments where he admonished them to “continue defending ICAIC as a space for debate and more complex ideas, open to a plurality of opinions.” The ICAIC director recognized right there that despite the fact that all those present, “live in the same reality, we have different points of view, contradictory and antagonistic.”

The discussion was moderated by Ernesto Daranas, director of the award winning film Conduct, and the narrator, essayist and scriptwriter Arturo Arango. After them, the three invited panelists spoke. Colina read his text and Arango read the article Phenomenology of Self-censorship in Cuba by the second speaker, Juan Antonio García Borrero, who was not able to get there from Camagüey. The third panelist was the journalist Dean Luis Reyes, host of the television program Sequence.

One of the topics discussed was the crisis in the documentary genre in Cuba. Dean Luis Reyes discussed The Train on the Northern Line, which “aspires to reveal the crisis of the Cuban people,” and the shooting of which “was affected by police and State Security intervention.” Despite, he explained, their having worked with “the necessary permits, the filmmakers had to suffer harassment and even threats.”

The filmmaker Jorge Luis Sanchez recalled the ICAIC “that no longer exists” and spoke of the presence in the media of a “blind triumphalism” and “persistent myopia of blaming individuals for the inefficiencies of the system.” Sanchez launched a call to “not be scandalized any more by works of art, but by the crazy design of reality,” and commented on the difficult and complex “reality of a country where to survive you have to turn to illegalities because the institutions almost never work well.”

For his part, the critic and professor Gustavo Arcos got straight to the point: “If we have censored films and if ICAIC participates in that censorship, we have to begin to define it.” Arcos understood that it is nonsense to have discussions “without having them in front of the people who are responsible for this issue,” and stressed the importance of having a counterpart so that the dialog does not become stagnant.

Arcos asked the authorities to explain why they consider the film they censor is “against the Revolution.” After admitting that, “we all have been too patient, waiting,” he proposed moving to implement a “a Plan B of strong actions.”

The filmmaker Belkis Vega recounted her long journey to run into the person who had censored her on military aid to Angola. She denounced the silence of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) and how film meetings were manipulated in the last congress to create a “candidacy commission” that censored names approved by the meetings and imposed others that no one had proposed.

Vega confessed to being frightened by the smear campaign against Cremata and what looks like a “witch hunt.” She also called attention to those who attack him in forums and through articles under a pseudonym and who have information they could only have gotten “through State Security.”

The playwright Norge Espinosa took the floor to speak about his “closeness to the issue of Cremata” and to everything that this case that “has been unleashed on the rest of the Cuban theater.” Espinosa recalled the “little war of e-mails” in 2007, which led to a series of meetings, but nothing came out in the press about the meetings of intellectuals.

He also claimed that what happened to Cremata, the director of Nada (Nothing), who on Saturday was wearing a shirt with the word censored across the chest, has “rocked the Cuban scene in recent weeks.” Espinosa regretted that this has found “no support” in the “theater movement, which is represented by UNEAC and the Council of the Performing Arts,” but said that this case creates a “precedent” and expressed his joy that “Cuban filmmakers are gathering in a way that people of the theater didn’t know how to do.”

Colina took the floor again to insist that in the case of Cremata something had to be done, “something concrete, a statement of protest” as a group and “put it in the media” because “we are all Cremata.”

The agreed on support letter will be published in the blog of Juan Antonio García Borrero and on the Facebook page of Cuban filmmakers.

Site manager’s note: The ICAIC response to this meeting is reported here.

Rene Vazquez Diaz: Cuban Forgettings / Intellectual Debate

See here for background information on this series of posts.

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 “Rene Vazquez Diaz: Cuban Forgettings / Intellectual Debate”

Opaque, astute and without scruples, Pavón was a powerful official who implemented a dogmatic political culture and who shamelessly condemned homosexuals, plunging intellectual life into what came to be known as “The Five Grey Years,” and condemned to ostracism first-rate writers like Antón Arrufat, Pablo Armando Fernández and César López. These individuals have all been recognized for the mark of creativity and beauty that they have left on Cuban culture.

In all countries there are issues of national importance about which, for long periods of time, silence is kept by tacit agreement. In Sweden, it has been the vigilance and surveillance carried out by the secret police on so-called “security risks,” which eventually affected more than 300,000 persons, many of whose work lives were ruined.

In France, it is the outrages of the genocidal war in Algeria. In Spain, it is the silence regarding Franco regime figures at all levels, from low-life torturers to businessmen and personages such as Fraga, whose television appearances never provoke revulsion in Spain.

Upon understanding that Pavón’s surprising reappearance entailed his public rehabilitation–and also a regressive movement in which Cuban intellectual life would lose a space for activism that had been steadily growing–numerous intellectuals freely and indignantly protested. Immediately, meetings were called of the Writers Union, the Institute of Radio & Television, and the Ministry of Culture.

Soon it was seen that this was not about a conspiracy, nor an attempted institutional coup to revive those bygone times of the Pavonato.* Nor was it about trying to damage the current politics, represented by the Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, and the majority of the intellectual community on the Island. But the emerging controversy offers some history lessons.

The first is that there needs to be a rigorous study of that period, and that in Cuba there are still functionaries who remain nostalgic for dogmatism and obstinacy. With sectarian spirit and a notable ahistoric sensibility, and taking advantage of the lack of culture inherent in the little world of television around the globe, somebody wanted to try out the possibility of taking a stab at current cultural politics. The sword was a wooden one. The reaction on the part of the intelligentsia and the authorities demonstrated that this past has no possibility of returning.

Another lesson is that the intellectuals who live and work in Cuba are involved in a productive process of changes, and appear to have much to defend. Their protestation, open and constructive, arose from the territory of responsibility, and a feeling that their dignity had been wounded, along with the dignity of the Nation. In turn, the reactions of many exiles were characterized by an exercise in selective forgetting, which drags them down to writing from the territory of revenge or of gratuitous mockery. One wrote that there exists an amnesia of the past and of the present; another said that the 1970s were a decade of horror. This requires a separate analysis, to contextualize the horror and open the shutters of amnesia about the past and the present.

How did that decade start out? On 17 April 1970, a group of Cuban exiles, armed and financed by the US, disembarked 22km from the city of Baracoa, killed four soldiers and gravely wounded two others. On 10 May, another group of exiles attacked two ships from the Caibarién Fishing Cooperative and kidnapped 11 crewmembers, who were left to their fate on a small island in the Bahamas.

On 12 July 1971, the same year as the Padilla case and the Education and Culture Congress, a group of exiles declared themselves the perpetrators, in Miami, of a terrorist act in Guantánamo that caused a railroad catastrophe, with a death toll of four Cubans and 17 others injured. In October, an armed motorboat from Miami attacked the small town of Boca de Samá. They killed the citizens Lidio Rivaflecha and Ramón Siam Portelles; there were four others gravely injured, two of them minors.

On 4 April 1972, the same year that I went to Poland to study naval engineering, a plastic bomb went off in the Cuban Commercial Office in Montreal. The employee Sergio Pérez del Castillo was blown to bits, and the so-called “Young Cubans Association” in Miami claimed responsibility. On 3 August of the following year, a member of the terrorist gang “Acción Cubana” [Cuban Action] died in Abrainville, near Paris, when a bomb he was preparing to fling at the Cuban embassy in Paris detonated in his hands. The explosion totally destroyed six rooms of the hotel where he was staying.

On 13 February 1974, a postal package addressed to the Cuban embassy in Madrid exploded in the La Cibeles central office, injuring an employee. On 22 April 1976, a highly destructive bomb was set off in the Cuban embassy in Lisbon and killed the functionaries Efrén Monteagudo y Adriana Corcho. On 9 July of that same year, a bomb that had been placed in a suitcase that was about to be transferred onto a Cubana de Aviación plane in Kingston, Jamaica, exploded on the ground because of a delay in the flight’s departure, thus preventing, by pure chance, the plane blowing up in full flight.

How did The Five Grey Years end? Stained in blood. On 6 October 1976, the Cubana de Aviación CUT-1201 plane blew up during a regularly-scheduled flight between Barbados and Havana, killing 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese, and 5 Koreans–73 persons total–in the first terrorist attack on civil aviation in modern times. [Luis] Posada Carriles, the terrorist responsible for that monstrous act and much more, today enjoys absolute impunity in the US, while none of the Cubans who write for the US-financed media have called for his extradition.

That era of horror cannot be analyzed with a sense of civic responsibility that is relativistic, opportunistic and selective–as the majority of Cuban exiles have done who say that they sleep with a clear conscience, while they write for a magazine such as Encuentro, which is financed by the same State that sponsors the horror of the so-called Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. The dangerousness of this document should unite all of us Cubans, independent of the position we hold regarding the Revolution, in a common humane and ethical effort to ensure a peaceful future for our compatriots.

With that project, which is counter to international law and the dignity of Cuba as a nation, the US State Department is codifying the future of the Island and secretly preparing a period of post-Castro violence, during which it will be necessary to “prepare to keep all schools open during the emergency phase of the transition, so that children and adolescents will be off the streets during that unstable time.”

What instability are they talking about? Cuban exiles will be able to claim their properties and displace the residents who today own their houses, or charge them rent and even raise it. The US will require its transitional government to shutter existing security agencies, and quickly process officials of “the previous regime” who appear on a long list of functionaries against whom they will seek “revenge.”

Because such measures (according to the report) could provoke violence and social disturbances, “the internal food supply, transportation, infrastructure and warehouse systems,” according to the State Department, “could be interrupted by the chaos that results from a power vacuum.” But, because the transfer of power would have already occurred, and because there would be no chaos or power vacuum because no Cuban wants this, Washington has announced that there is a secret addendum** to the plan that sets forth a plan to manufacture that chaos.

I propose that this secret addendum be entitled, “The Horror Clause.” For, not only is it enough to appoint an espionage mission against Cuba, and a proconsul named Caleb McCarry who, with full authority (granted by a foreign power!), will direct the reconquest of Cuba. They also have in hand that secret plan, which cannot entail anything other than a military intervention against the people of Cuba.

To disregard these facts while analyzing the difficulties and outrageousness of that [Five Grey Years] era and the one we’re living in today–speaking of Cuba as if it were not a country exposed like none other to criminal policies such as the blockade [embargo] and the Helms-Burton Act–is a way of reproducing the propaganda that the US promotes to justify its aggressions. But it will never be the honest exercise in historical introspection which we Cubans need, within and outside of Cuba.

René Vázquez Díaz, Sweden

Translator’s Notes:
*”Pavonato” is Cuban slang coined to refer to Pavón’s years at the helm of Cuba’s National Council of Culture in the 1970s.
**Former US Diplomat in Havana Wayne Smith uses the term “secret annex” to refer to this.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others.

Message From Juan Antonio García Borrero / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

See here for background information on this series of posts.

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 “Message From Juan Antonio García Borrero / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate”

I would like to speak, as you have, of Cuban cinema. I think it is still a pristine terrain for discussion. Generally, we discuss with more vigor the pertinence that Forrest Gump obtained so many Oscars, rather than discussing the effectiveness of our own cinema. This does not mean that it is not important to talk about the Oscars, as long as it is examined from a critical perspective and as a cultural phenomenon. Gratuitous Oscarphobia is as harmful and petulant as Oscarmania.

I still insist that Cuban cinema is studied much better outside of Cuba (for example in France or the United States), than in our country. This is because to speak critically about the history of Cuban film means to subject to physicalization the relationship that this artistic expression maintains over nearly five decades to the political vanguard. And from Cuba, that’s quite complex to undertake, because it can upset that vanguard. You mention the case of “Alice in Wondertown,” but you have to go back to “PM”* and even take into account “Memories of Underdevelopment,” and the reaction of certain political commissars when, in the height of the pavonato, “A Day in November” was made, but only released six years later. Or, equally, you can talk about “Glass Roof.” Or of “The Enchantment of Return,” never shown despite having won the Caracol Prize or something like that.

The example of the Cuban cinema during the Five Grey Years is no less paradoxical. It is true that a film like “A Day in November” was held for six or seven years without being released, because it  was completed in that time when the cultural politics represented by Pavón (notinvented by him) became natural law, and the first charge that since the “First Congress on Education and Culture” was assigned to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) was still sounding, which is the increase in historical films that would help legitimizethose hundred years of struggle for national independence.

A story like that of [Humberto]Solás, for all its more edifying end, seemed doomed not to fall within the permissible parameters of the censors, who were more attentive to the protests of the intellectuals in the case of Padilla, that the potential criticism could come from within. Only Titón [filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s nickname] was shrewd enough to turn the storyline of “A Cuban Fight Against Demons” into a contemporary analysis of what could be ideological intolerance; and the same with The Last Supper,” in which one can see a portrait of something that we have never shaken off: the double standard. Titón himself would later say, during one of his final interviews, that because the Church and the Party had so many things in common, the story of “The Last Supper” could be extrapolated without much effort.

I believe that the responsibility around this lack of debate about Cuban cinema in the country is a shared one. In this, I could seem incendiary. But it’s not just about those who do the censoring on television, even though the responsibility borne by these individuals is certain. There is also much responsibility borne by critics and filmmakers, who may have preferred to ensure our next book or shoot before discussing ad nauseam what is obviously an outrage: the censoring of national films on our own national television.

I recall that I once took part as a delegate in one of the UNEAC Congresses, and the point that I wanted to make was precisely that: the absence of Cuban cinema on television. The official in charge of the event at the time told me that there were more important things to discuss, and suggested “other problems” to highlight. I also remember that during this same event, Rolando Pérez Betancourt brought up the same issue, arguing in great detail and very intelligently every one of those matters you  outline. And nothing happened.

“Strawberry and Chocolate” continues to be excluded from our domestic television, although Cubavisión Internacional does broadcast it regularly. Somebody has decided that the Cuban television viewer (the domestic one) is an intellectual minor and, despite so much instruction and level of education, is not competent enough to view such a film. This way of thinking reminds me of an ingenious phrase by Julio García Espinosa, when he speaks of “cinema’s double standard.”

Even so, my question goes deeper: amidst all this, whither the Cuban filmmakers? We already know that the critics cannot schedule “Strawberry and Chocolate” to air on television, because rules are rules, and they must be followed. They are not in charge–although, of course, they do have a voice, and that privilege of public declaration that has been granted them should be exploited for reflecting on what is really lacking in society, and not about what the media bosses want discussed. All things considered, the existence of Cuban cinema within a television framework seems crazy, for it is as if two conversations in different languages were going on. On the one hand, television, with its inveterate celebratory tradition; on the other, Cuban cinema, with its tendency to show a more complex view of reality, and to humanize the image of a country which, as all others that I know, contains much that is of pain and laughter.

That filmmakers exert no real influence on Cuban media is obvious. What is not clear to me is to what point filmmakers appear determined to denounce this situation, to oppose it, and to not become accomplices to the absurdity. I have defended a viewpoint that has garnered me a plethora of detractors. Some time ago, I published a little essay that I titled, ” ‘The Confiscated Utopia’: From the Gravity of Dreams to the Lightness of Realism,” which, unmistakably sought to promote an “intelligent” discussion amongst filmmakers and critics. The essay was barely answered (considered) by a pair of producers (Arturo Sotto, Jorge Luis Sánchez), considering the many rumors and “hallway gossip” written, as I always say, on rolling paper. In my opinion, this was proof that intellectual organicness had been confiscated within Cuban cinema. And I speak not of common intellectual organicness, but that of the artist who, being heretical by nature, opts for silence, which is not a natural condition, but rather an imposed one.

The thesis of “The Confiscated Utopia” also spoke to the need of leaving aside those false divisions in which creators and critics see themselves as irreconcilable antagonists. As far as I know, this thinking is not exclusive to critics, and criticism can be creative. But this creative thinking starts at home, and perhaps this is a hasty judgment, but filmmakers in Cuba at some point gave up that common goal which used to be associated with a Titón, a García Espinosa or a Solás, so as to be able to face a more difficult survival.

The impulse to survive makes us selfish, because what it imposes is “every man for himself,” and measured thinking is left by the wayside. I still insist on the thesis, then, until such time I am convinced otherwise.

I admit that what I’m saying is no more than a personal impression. The grave matter is that almost nobody in Cuba is interested in discussing this. In our collective imaginary, the ICAIC continues to be an island within the Island, which influences even the way in which filmmakers conceive their works.

No few of these films still use the same model of portrayal that was in vogue in the early ’60s. As if time had stood still. As if it were Robinson Crusoe filming himself. Or as if 1959 were around the corner. Nor is it about trying to make another “Memories of Underdevelopment” or “Lucía,” but rather of feeding from that same heretical animus that mobilized production during that decade, that impulse that went beyond the ideological function to transform itself into the paradigm of a cultural phenomenon (the new Latin American cinema), which lives on in memory.

Outside the country, many criticize the ICAIC because they consider it a mere propaganda machine for the system, but the demand for a national cinema was already present in the ’50s, and it was that combination of yearnings (aesthetic and ideological) that facilitated the rapid ascension of our cinema to a position of leadership in the continent. Today that leadership is non-existent. It is enough to compare the gross of more recent Cuban films with Latin American films that are currently at the top of certain innovative movements, and one will see to what degree we have remained isolated in this domain, too. Not even good political cinema (such as the documentary by Santiago Alvarez), nor innovative cinema in the esthetic sense.

The only way to recapture that creative animus of yesteryear is having dialogue ad nauseam, deploying the narrative arsenal, converting the hallways of the ICAIC into a mobile cinematheque wherein people live cinema, not live off it. And above all, learning to debate each other, because amongst ourselves (filmmakers and critics) there still predominates that primitive feeling that makes us think that any disagreement is a personal problem, if not a political one.

Although I am interested in the culture of polemics, I do not like gratuitous argument. I believe that there are many people living off that ancient tool which is the insult flung at he who does not think like you. That is not the case with us. Your piece has made me think, and that is what matters. Unfortunately, the controversies surrounding Cuban cinema have swirled around other interests besides those of cinema itself. And almost always they have ended silenced by circumstances that tomorrow will cease to exist, while influencing too much the actual lives of filmmakers.

Nobody can give back to Daniel Díaz Torres (not the filmmaker, but the human being) the peace that was taken from him during those bad times of “Alice in Wondertown,” just as nobody can return to Titón and Tabío their tranquillity after Fidel’s public criticism of “Guantanamera.” Or to Solás for his disagreements following “A November Day,” or “Cecilia.” That is perhaps the saddest thing that happens with those “cultural policies,” designed with apparent good intentions, policies that speak much about collective principles, and very little about flesh-and-blood beings. They are policies which, as all such policies do, eventually dehumanize art and its reception by the public.

Because I am still interested in supporting the idea of critical thinking on the inside (which, for some, is symptomatic of the most decadent naiveté), then I want to applaud your text as one of the most lucid connected to Cuban cinema that I have read in a long time. And I am gladdened that it comes from someone who works within the ICAIC–that is, from an artist who can think. Would that this be the prelude to that day in which debate in Cuba (the nation, and not just the physical island) will become what it should be: the way to our common betterment.

A hug,

Juan Antonio García Borrero

Another Message from Juan Antonio García Borrero, to Gustavo Arcos Fernández-Brito:

My Dear Gustav:

Like everything in this life, the Internet has its indisputable advantages, but also its dark side. If, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, the public sphere appears to recover some of its autonomy (as is demonstrated by this debate that right now keeps us occupied and which, fortunately, nobody can control or maneuver towards an expressed end), on the other it runs the risk of total dispersion. I admit, then, that it has been error to say that Colina is the only Cuban critic showing himself to be sensitized to the matter. I should have said that he was the only one I knew, and thus avoid that simplistic vision that I myself have tried to combat with the previous writing. I would appreciate, then, if you would send me Luciano’s thoughts, those of Frank, and yours, which surely will be most useful to me. As the best philosopher to have ever peeked out from a screen has said, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Another aspect that I should qualify is that reference to critical thinking “on the inside.” It is a statement that appears to say that those of us who inhabit the Island have the monopoly on truth, when, in fact, there are all kinds in the Lord’s Vinyard. There is one who lives in Miami and has never left the pre-revolutionary Vedado district. There is another one who lives in Upper Mayarí and who from there can perceive with much more clarity what the current state of the world is, especially when he goes to a grocery store that is nothing like the ones in Vedado.

But there is one who lives in some uncertain place in the Cuban nation, not the physical but the imagined one, and he knows that this is not a movie about good guys and bad guys, but rather something more complex. Critical thinking (if it is real and tries to adjust to the rigor of contrasts) surely benefits adversaries, and causes them to discover completely new areas of controversy, be it in Havana or Madrid. In the end, nobody makes an argument to impose a vision for life, but rather so that those who come later will achieve a superior point of view.

But, let us speak of cinema, which is what interests me right now (even when I know that cinema is not the most urgent problem that this country needs to solve). I see that on his blog, Duanel Díaz argues against my vision of revolutionary cinema. His is a view I respect, even though I don’t share it. I don’t want to be too naive, but neither do I want to be ungrateful. I admit that no film is no film is innocent, and since “Juan Quin Quin” up to today, passing “Strawberry and Chocolate” and reaching “Havana Suite,” Cubans of my generation have been trained by the worldviews articulated in those films.

And I am grateful for this, because it has allowed me to take part in a cinema that is not simple evasion, that is not a substitute for that trash that they try to uncritically sell us on “The Saturday Movie,” and which rather than stimulate a critical sense in the spectator, what it does is contribute to his alienation. I don’t have anything against entertainment, for without this insurance we would go straight to suicide, but what does leave me unsatisfied is this attitude on the part of national television, which on the one hand hurls invective at imperialism on The Round Table, and two hours later, on the same channels, shows the worst of “the Enemy’s” cinema? Or that censors the films of the ICAIC, and converts into a “free zone” of the most questionable Hollywood ideas the majority of its film timeslots (there are always exceptions, and we know of colleagues who insist on promoting another type of cinema, be it Latin American, Iranian, European or North American).

I have defended and will continue to defend the cinema of the ICAIC, because films have been made under its auspices that will endure beyond our isolated conflicts. Because in many of their narratives can be found the uncertainties of an age, and not only the strict anecdotes of a Revolution that, as do all, leaves in its wake winners and losers, joys and sorrows. Those who insist on attacking the cinema of the ICAIC for its ideological suppositions are losing sight of the fact that we speak of a production that was (is) conceived by human beings, and not by machines that say “yes” or “no” to everything. A simplistic apologia for the system? Then where would we leave the irreverence of Guillén Landrián? The disturbing questions posed by Sara Gómez in those documentaries about “An Island for Miguel”? The banishment of Fausto Canel? The absence of Alberto Roldán? The uninhibitidness of “Memories of Underdevelopment”? The existential doubts of the main character in “A Day in November”?

If this had been only a reaffirmative production, then the cinema produced by Cubans in the diaspora would have had better results, taking into account that it has enjoyed a greater freedom of expression. But what has happened is that the cinema of the ICAIC has been produced with another kind of intentionality: the ideological was converted to the aesthetic from the moment in which it coincided with a time that demanded these changes, and more. The cinema of the ICAIC was one more within that cinematic group (such as the Polish cinema, the “Free Cinema,” the “Cinema Novo,” or Solana and Getino’s “Third Cinema”) which intended to blow up the more-usual model of portrayal. It is true that the ICAIC’s cinema with a violent rupture in the political sphere (the Revolution), but even before then, the dissatisfaction with the Cuban cinema of yesteryear was well-known. Even “PM” was part of this desire to experiment with the language of film.

To attach the ICAIC solely from the ideological point of view reduces the analysis to just the backing that its production has had from the State. The thing is, this backing has not been so transparent, if we review the relationship that this institution has maintained with the political vanguard: at least three or four films have caused major disagreements (think of “Cecilia,” “Alice in Wondertown,” or “Guantanamera”)–while others, such as “Parting of the Ways,” “Supporting Roles,” “Glass Roof,” and “Think of Me,” have incited more than one official resentment.

On the other hand, to judge Titón’s body of work–to mention one–only from the standpoint of political militancy, is to lose what is human about that creation. Whoever reads his letters knows that Titón posed the same questions during the 1950s, because he was already interested in the finiteness of being; thus the almost constant presence of Death in his films. But upon ignoring that matter it could be that the interpretation [of his work] leads to the political observations we already know from “Guantanamera.”

I think that within this cinema of the ICAIC, many times, beyond ideology, it is possible to detect the behavior of the more common mentalities; while at other times I have noted that it’s necessary to speak of Cuban cinema in general, and not only that of the ICAIC, because in this underground cinema not mentioned by Colina, which is ommitted on television (and to which Belkis Vega makes reference in her reflection), we can also sense many of the hopes and dreams of the Cuban.

I do not doubt that the ICAIC has its questionable aspects, and that some of its films militate for the most Manichean viewpoint, but I don’t believe that this has been the rule. Actually, what should be most of interest right now to the historian of Cuban cinema is exploring those hidden tensions between the individual and society, and which have made possible so many films that have more than one message. This will to explore is yet unseen, perhaps because prudence is outweighing defiance. Or because that deceitful and often visceral message is predominating that alerts us that, still, “now is not the time.”

Even so, the urgency of this necessary debate about our cinema has been postponed vis-a-vis the evidence of a mystery that I confess is really absurd: What is the exact motive that impedes that a good portion of Cuban cinema is not broadcast on national television? For those who have systematically attacked the Revolution for what it represses, it is clear that the issue is a problem of freedom of expression. I refuse to believe that it is something this vulgar, because it is obvious that these films are not counterrevolutionary. I mean to say, they are not, “Bitter Sugar” or “The Lost City.”**

However primitive might be the mentality of a bureaucrat in power, he knows that this is not the best way to protect the Revolution–or, at least, he will have advisers sensitive to cultural matters who will bring him up to date on those international prizes won by “Strawberry and Chocolate” and “Havana Suite” [by Fernando Pérez], which makes it a true blunder to make into hostages of the shadow these things are so well-known internationally.

It is true that these functionaries have the power to make decisions, but I also like to remember that when the dissolution of the ICAIC was announced almost by decree following the “Alice in Wondertown” brouhaha, it was those very filmmakers (on the inside) who rejected that decision, which had come from very high levels. One proof that the power of reason cannot always be silenced by reason of power.

My suspicion is that right now, filmmakers and critics are divided over questions of survival more than of thinking, and that is something that the bureaucracy knows how to exploit. Everyone pursues his own interests, because it is more important to obtain financing for the film itself than to support, at any cost, a national cinema project (because only the showing of our films on television would confirm that this film project exists). And, after all, this does not fall within the priorities of a filmmaker anxious to demand that our films be shown to the public for whom these works have been originally conceived: for the domestic audience. Neither does fostering spaces where thought and systematic debate will make life intellectually impossible for that bureaucracy. It’s a matter of a time, they’ll tell me, and this is true. An ICAIC production center is no longer essential to propel a project. Because, although production has been democratized, showings have not.

Filmmakers who are not from Hollywood still depend first on festivals, then on the support of their respective countries (filmmakers outside of Cuba don’t enjoy much of this–just look at the case of Cuban filmmakers in the diaspora), and finally, on the television channel interested in broadcasting that type of product. Therefore, the problem is a really important one that has to do with our audiovisual memory (wherever Cubans may be), and which would be worth discussing by those who examine “political cultures” in general, or by political antagonists who try to invalidate each other because of irreconcilable differences. It cannot even occur to us to believe that Cuban television could not be proud to show on its screens that which in other places is assumed to be part of the revolutionary culture. In fact, it will be difficult to explain to our grandchildren why a film such as “Strawberry and Chocolate” took more than a decade to be seen on television, despite the Revolution’s fervor for the national [film] project. If it seems absurd, in five decades it will seem pathetic.

I’m sure I’ve left out a thousand things, and I don’t doubt that opinions will emerge that will try to discredit what I’ve expounded-on here to you. But as I think I told you in another message, I am not interested in uttering ultimate truths, only in sowing a few concerns surrounding this that we barely know: the history of Cuban cinema. This is only my version of the problem, one of many which, according to the moral of [the Kurosawa film] Rashomon, could explain the matter. New opinions will surely improve it, and hopefully more than one colleague will feel inspired to participate.

Another Hug,

Juan Antonio García Borrero

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, and others.
Translator’s Notes:
* “PM” is “Pasado Meridiano,” a 1961 documentary of Havana nightlife which, among other factors, provoked Fidel Castro’s “Speech to the Intellectuals“. 

** Both of these films were made by Cubans in exile.

Message from Jorge Luis Sanchez / Polemica, 2007 Intellectual Debate

This debate seems far more serious and interesting than the candles feeding the shadows of study, in this I agree with Arturo ArangoI have no time to sit and watch TV, I saw the little programAnd I doubted, for when the pavonato took place, I was a child and didn’t suffer it directlyIt touched others, more recentin 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 CultureNor did the narrator’s voice dare to name the charge! Continue reading “Message from Jorge Luis Sanchez / Polemica, 2007 Intellectual Debate”

Maybe for the younger generation, a word as undesirable as “parametrado” doesn’t disturb our memory. I wrote this and circulated it on the night of the 6th, after reading Desiderio and Arturo, now add that I agree with all this fruitful debate. That it should not be only the responsibility of those affected. Nor of those who lived through the nonsense. It should not the responsibility only of those affectedOr those who lived through the nonsenseMy grandmother used to say this refrainIf you saw me I was playingif you did not see meyou‘re fucked. When ignorance and malice unite!

Count on me for anything.

Jorge Luis Sánchez

Another message from Jorge Luis Sánchez

So?

A group gathers inside, to discuss and analyze.

A larger group, from outside, follows — with more or less computerized information — the result of what those inside discussed.

As in those bad American movies of the “Tanda del Domingo” (Sunday Show) TV series, it would seem that with the statement by UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) all is resolved. It is subtly conclusive. It does not satisfy me. I do not feel represented by it, even though I am not a member of that organization.

Meanwhile, TV — which, full of incoherencies, censures Strawberry and Chocolate, among other films produced by the current political culture, a film that it contributed, not just to the culture, but to all of society, making us less medieval — our TV continues its particular Political Culture which in general is no more than the historic application of the not-Political Culture. Remember that what does not appear on television in this country simply does not exist. It is not.

Meanwhile, on the wound (the conflict), a band-aid (the Declaration) is applied, which lacks the demand for an efficient solution, thus it becomes a palliative, or something like a methodologically antique response, inefficient and unsatisfactory. I think that the UNEAC should have demanded, and TV should have responded. In this case, TV responded via the voice of the UNEAC, so that one should be left positively frustrated, and more confused.

Once again, the screwed-up practice is repeated of publishing a Declaration which, for the people, is incomplete, destined to be interpreted by clairvoyants, being that it omits any amount of data, and it dissolves in its generality.

In Centro Habana they have asked me what happened, and it tires me to summarize what has been happening all these days, all these years, all these decades. A paradox, this, because the majority of Cubans — for whom their existence is designed to be lived attached to the television set — don’t know what happened in the three television programs mentioned in the Declaration.

Serenity should not be related to the application of old solutions to old, and new, problems. I quickly tuned in, in case anyone said, publicly (more or less), that the Revolution is already tired of justifications.

Never will a clumsy move be resolved by another clumsy move.

At least unless a better outside sign of tranquility is desired, lessening the focus on the inside–another old practice.

Since I was born all the great and essential debates about the culture of my country continue to be postponed, with the conservative, monotonous and worn-out argument, “It is not the right time.”

So, when will it be the right time?

The Declaration might have been a better sign. It is not enough that they write that the Policy of the Revolution is Irreversible. To which provisions can one appeal when that guarantee is threatened? To which historical figure? Where? To a Declaration? To a Self-Criticism?  Well? All right, then, it must be that sorrows beat up on each other, and Sindo said this is why they are not lethal.

Shall we eternally be children of contexts? Naively, someone told me that, between the 80s and the start of the 90s, it caused plenty of headaches for artists. Remember the film, Alice in Wondertown.*

*Translator’s Note: This film, which satirized Cuba’s bureaucracy, caused the early retirement of the then-director of the ICAIC, Julio García Espinosa.

Jorge Luis Sánchez.

January 18, 2007

Translated by Regina Anavy and Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Feb 2007 Article About the Intellectual Debate

CULTURE-CUBA: Exorcising the Ghosts of the Past

HAVANA, 23 February 2007 (IPS) – 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 “Feb 2007 Article About the Intellectual Debate”

Regarding the possibility that the most negative aspects of Cuban cultural policy have been completely left behind, Arango said the old policy is still fighting to survive in some limited circles.

In his view, the e-mail debate has attempted to “bring the policy to light, so that more libertarian, emancipating and anti-dogmatic principles expand, perhaps definitively.”

“What we are also trying to say is that the Cuban Revolution would perish if the old (restrictive) methods return, if it shuns the complexities contributed by art and literature, if it ignores the voices of its thinkers, its artists. That, more than safeguarding our own work, is what this debate is about,” said Arango.

The so-called “e-mail crisis” broke out after 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.

Among the characteristics of that period, which set strong limits on culture and was referred to by essayist Ambrosio Fornet as “the grey quinquennium” (“five grey years”), although it lasted nearly a decade, writer Leonardo Padura lists “the censorship of things that today would look ridiculous” and “the isolation of artists and students for their religious beliefs or sexual preferences.”

He also mentions the suspicion that met any action or opinion not based on the most staunch orthodoxy, exacerbated dogmatism, the ease with which people were accused of having “ideological problems” the marginalization of Cuban artists and the insistence on “Sovietizing” art and indoctrinating writers and artists.

Failure to respect the established “parameters” led during those years to the closure of artistic endeavors, like the Guiñol theatre, and to the marginalization of writers, playwrights and artists. In 1976, the creation of the Ministry of Culture marked the end of the old policy and the start of a new era.

Cuba’s “collective memory” is in need of “a revision of the burdens, abuses and excesses of that time, as the only possible way to preserve in the future the spaces for debate, criticism, the expression of opinions, communication and creation that have been achieved today,” wrote Padura in Culture and Society, a publication of the Havana office of Inter Press Service (IPS).

According to the author of the 1996 detective novel Máscaras (Havana Red in its English translation), which features an older gay man who suffered the restrictive “parameters” of the past, the consensus on certain principles reached by those involved in the e-mail debate “is a demonstration that space has been gained for reflection, critical views and even indignation.”

Besides lashing out against what looked like a vindication of the three former officials involved in enforcing the cultural parameters – Tamayo, Quesada and Serguera – many of those taking part in the e-mail exchange underscored the need to lift the veil of silence on that sad episode in history, and to study its causes and effects and to recognize the mistakes made in order to prevent a repeat.

Others, like writer Amir Valle, who is presently living outside of Cuba, or filmmaker Enrique Colina, said symptoms of the past could still be seen in the present: locally made films that have never been aired on television, because of their critical views of aspects of life in Cuba; drafts of books that go unpublished; and little room for people to express opinions that deviate from the government line.

“For me, this was never the ‘grey quinquennium’; for me it was always ‘the period of the silent scandal.’ Generations that have come later have been molded in this silence,” playwright José Milián wrote in an e-mail.

From 1970 to 1974, Milián stopped writing, and none of his plays were produced on stage until 1979.

Filmmaker Belkis Vega reflected on the need for analysis and how it has been avoided with the arguments that “the time is not right” or “to avoid giving ammunition to the enemy” – a reference to the United States and its hostile Cuba policy.

Although many believe that “to be a revolutionary is to transform, to doubt, to have a critical eye,” many issues are postponed “until that ‘right’ time and moment, which never arrives,” in order to maintain unity and avoid giving “ammunition to the enemy,” without comprehending that “statism, which freezes all debate, is a very efficient weapon,” said the filmmaker.

The same idea was underlined by Fornet on Jan. 21 in the Casa de las Américas during the first of a series of conferences coordinated by the Criterios Cultural Center with the aim of discussing, from different angles, the cultural policy “of the difficult years.”

“Pacts of silence tend to be extremely risky, because they create a climate of immobility, a pretence of unanimity that keeps us from gauging the true magnitude of the dangers,” said Fornet, a witness to the harsh period in question and one of the first to express, in the last decade, critical reflections on what he dubbed the “grey quinquennium.”

Besides Fornet’s central conference, the meeting in the Casa de las Américas featured a speech by Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto and another by essayist Desiderio Navarro, who has become sort of a coordinator of the e-mail debate from his desk in the Criterios cultural centre.

“In cyberspace, anyone who has access to e-mail can participate. By contrast, in a conference room that seats 450 people, invitations are necessary. But undoubtedly there is more coherence in a conference room, where everyone listens to each other,” said Arango on what he interpreted as a leap by the debate from the private to the public spheres.

The central issues touched on by the debate showed up again in the public sphere on Feb. 3 in the presentation of an essay by Navarro on the web site of the Cuban Book Institute. The essay, “The Causes of Things,” is a compilation of writings on critical thinking and the banalization of the media.

The present revision of the past, which some see as unstoppable, also continued in the corridors and presentations at the Feb. 8-18 International Book Fair in Havana.

“I would allow myself to say that this fair is dedicated to all Cuban creators, without excluding anyone, and to overcoming any restriction that our culture may have shown, endured, and suffered over the years,” poet César López, a National Literature Prize-winner, said at the inauguration of the fair.

Among Cuba’s outstanding writers, López mentioned Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005), Reynaldo Arenas (1943-1990), Jesús Díaz (1941-2002) and Heberto Padilla (1932-2000), all of whom died in exile defending positions that were radically opposed to the government of Fidel Castro.

“They have let the genie out of the bottle. And it will not go back in,” writer Reynaldo González, 2002 National Literature Prize-winner and one of the participants in the e-mail debate, told IPS.

“Errors are part of the past only if they are rectified. All of this reflects the lack of transparency maintained for 30 years regarding crimes against culture committed by dogmatic, intolerant people and overlooked by some authorities, and the ‘impunity’ that has surrounded them,” he added.

González said “opposition to these methods and to the Stalinist ideology that has generated them” has gained strength not only in intellectual circles but also “at decision-making levels.” Only “after clearly identifying the causes and combating the effects…can “healing begin,” he said.

Message from Maritza Corrales / Polemica, The 2007 Debate

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.

Maritza Corrales

Translated by: Kathy Fox

The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term / Ambrosio Fornet

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

1

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 Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term / Ambrosio Fornet”

Well, we had not left our amazement when a little voice began to hammer our ears: “And why so hard to believe? Why did the young director have to know? Have you, the old people who lived and suffered through that stage, written a book or pamphlet, published a series of articles, led a series of talks on the subject?

In recent years the reporting of individual violations of the perverse display of prejudice, the cynicism of the explanations has been made by the victims in interviews, articles, awards acceptance speeches, but the analysis of the phenomenon was being postponed as have been other things that deserved to be discussed, and for the same reason: to avoid jeopardizing the unity. Along with the historical validity of our national project, the unity is the only thing, in fact, that ensures our superiority over enemies and adversaries.

But just as we should not forget that in a place permanently besieged, as is our country, insisting on differences and disagreements equivalent to “giving ammunition to the enemy” …, it must be remembered that the covenants of silence are often highly risky, because they create a climate of immobility, a unanimous mockery that prevents us from measuring the true extent of the dangers and the integrity of our ranks, in which often slip loquacious opportunists.

We know these drills and maneuvers conducted in Europe and especially in the USSR, and in the latter case, I believe, because even our own militants, among them not a few heroes of labor and descendants of heroes of the war, had been definitively demobilized by the bureaucracy and routine.

Without being a specialist in the field, I dare ask the unfathomable question: “Why not go the workers, especially the communist militants, to defend the Revolution in the USSR?” Very simple: “Because no instructions from above were given.”

We need to stand firm in our trenches, which, of course, are not the best places to exercise democracy, but that does not mean we can afford to abandon the practice of criticism and self-criticism, the only exercise that can set us free of triumphalism and save us from ideological deterioration.

2

I would not want to weary you with ramblings and criteria that many of you share and that could get us away from our subject. This, as suggested by the title of my talk, proposed by Desiderio, aims at the reasons and practice of Five Grey Years.

I invented the label for methodological reasons, trying to isolate and describe that period so I looked at its dominant trait and featuring contrasts with the previous stage, characterized by its color and its internal dynamics (although not without, as we shall see, frustrations and surprises [1].

But before we go on I would like to make a couple of points clear. First, from where I speak, that is, from what life experience, from which ideological and political position I project my views and reviews on the subject, and in general on issues of culture, their production and reach, with an emphasis on literature-especially-narrative, which is the only field I know from experience. I quickly speak like this because I fear to say anything that seems incomprehensible or strange to some of the young people present.

I come, obviously, from a world that marked my position on many of these problems: the world of pre-revolutionary Cuba, the former republic. From a young age I wanted to write. I would not dare to say I wanted to be a writer because it was a job without a professional profile that could attract suspicion or derision.

“I did not tell anyone I wanted to be writer,” [2] José Soler Puig confessed to a friend, “because people laughed and even thought that was a job for feminine men”

And Virgilio Piñera, in a public message addressed to Fidel in March 1959: “… We, the Cuban writers, we are ’the last card in the deck’, we mean nothing when it comes to economic, social and even in the field of the Letters itself. We want to cooperate shoulder to shoulder with the Revolution, but this requires that we remove the miserable state in which we struggle.” [3]

As you can see, the level of self-esteem of the guild was on the floor. Perhaps the writers’ anecdotes, vain or boastful, irritated or amused his confreres in the corridors of Madrid or Paris, but here were tales of aliens, since the writer was literally outside the circle of his closest friends and the four cats who read Origenes [Magazine] (lucky cats, by the way).

It still seems a miracle that two years after the message of Virgilio I was already editing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and testimonials of mountain children at the Ministry of Education, led by Herminio Almendros, and soon also Proust, Joyce and Kafka for the National Publisher, led by Alejo Carpentier.

From this perspective it became clear that we began to consolidate an alliance between political and artistic avant-garde. The Revolution — the real possibility of life-change — appeared to us as the political expression of the avant-garde artistic aspirations.

So when it began to show its hairy ear of homophobia and then masked the socialist realism, we felt quite confused. What did this have to do with phenomenon so deep, they really had changed the lives of millions of people, making the illiterate literate and feeding the hungry, not letting a single child go without a school, promising to sweep away racial discrimination and machismo, placing in bookstores, at the price of fifty cents or a dollar, all literature, from Homer to Rulfo, from Daphnis and Chloe to my uncle the employee … what did an event of these dimensions have to do with my sexual preferences or the pilgrim image of a virtuous and virile artist, always willing to sing the glories of homelands?

We, the young people whom we thought were the heirs and representatives of the artistic and literary vanguard could not communicate that vision … a serious problem, since in dogmatic circles gaining strength came the idea that aesthetic discrepancies concealed political differences.

Moreover, one could not deny that the new responsibilities also discovered their own shortcomings. If suddenly we had the opportunity to address the millions of potential readers, we could not help but wonder: What now, how to write or, in the case of publisher, to publish?

Is “what everyone understands, what the officials understand,” as Che ironically said? Do we have what “the people like”, thus leaving it stuck in the lowest level, or what I like, so that people refine their tastes and one day become as educated as I am?

Populism, paternalism, elitism, high culture, popular culture, and mass culture for the masses … ghosts of ideological dilemmas and, finally, beginning to traverse on our way, often taking us by surprise …

What I mean is that you have some patience, because it is impossible to speak of the Five Grey Years without referring to the origins of certain conflicts that were incubated in the late seventies. [4]

I will only refer to those who, as mentioned, touch us more closely, others, like the microfraction, for example, beyond the limits of our subject (although they continue to be associated with it because it was a bad sectarianism widespread among intellectuals and political cadres directly linked to the field of ideology).[5]

3

Socialist realism — literature as pedagogy and hagiography, methodologically oriented toward creating “positive heroes” and the strategic absence of antagonistic conflicts in “among the people” — produced in us, my petit bourgeois friends and I, the same reaction someone experiences when a fly is found in the glass of milk.

Among the Cuban narrators no one, as I recall, had accepted the invitation, but the newly established National Press published heavily edited Soviet novels (some respectable, indeed, such as Sholokhov and those of Alexander Bek — The Highway, by Volokolamsk and Men by Panfilov, actually two parts of the same epic — that accompanied many militants in the frequent demonstrations of the time).

In any case, I, as a young intellectual with no political ideology other than that of Fidel’s (I used to say at the time that I had become a Marxist by watching television, i.e. listening to Fidel), I had two things absolutely clear: return to the past? It was not going to happen. Accept as cultural horizon a manual by Konstantinov and normative aesthetics? No way.

But I would not want to fall into the same thing we criticize, and I know when it comes to defending our truth, our point of view, we tend to be as categorical and dogmatic as the adversary. Socialist realism was not “intrinsically evil”, what was intrinsically evil was the imposition of this formula in the USSR, where what could have been a school, one more literary and artistic current, suddenly became the mandatory official doctrine.

Of the various roles that plays or that literature and art can play — aesthetics, recreation, informative, teaching — the commissars moved the latter to the foreground, to the detriment of the other, what the people and particularly the working class needed was not just simply reading — opening new horizons of expectations — but to educate themselves, assimilate through reading the norms and values of the new society.

This admirable purpose — admirable in theory, and especially since its foundation dating back to the Enlightenment was not aware that “if art educates,” and I quote Gramsci for the umpteenth time, “it does as art not as educative art, because if it is educative art it ceases to be art and an art that denies itself cannot educate anyone.”

We did not even suspect that the legacy of scholastic Marxism was as strong among us, or at least among some intellectuals from the Popular Socialist Party, but one of our most brilliant and respected essayists, Mirta Aguirre, wrote in October 1963:

“Today, in the hands of dialectical materialism, art can and should be a form of exorcism: a form of knowledge that contributes to sweep the minds of men free from the Caliginous shadows of ignorance, a valuable tool for replacing the religious conception of the world by its scientific conception and quick Marxist resource of the defeat of the philosophical idealism.” [6]

One was tempted to ask: can and should art be all that? Or, with a certain nonchalance: is that all that art can and should be? If it had, it would not have taken long to discover that our bewilderment had a shady class origin, because what really happened was that certain ideas were “precarious and on their way to extinction; some intellectuals and artists, “instead of engaging to remove traces from themselves of the ideological remains of a collapsed society,” stubbornly insisted on justifying them. [7]

Actually, what we saw was that under that rigid and precarious artistic guidance model the line between art, education, propaganda and advertising was becoming blurred. The funny thing is that capitalism produced tons of publicity and advertising without mentioning it and even cleverly disguised it under the labels of information and “entertainment.”

But socialism was young and inexperienced; in the famous controversy of December 1963 between Blas Roca and Alfredo Guevara around the display of several films (the Sweet Life by Fellini, Accatone by Pasolini, The Exterminating Angel by Buñuel and Alias Gardelito by Lautaro Murua), Guevara pointed to the newspaper column of Blas Roca — a very respectable man, in other respects — as a column that so superficially addresses the problems of culture, art and film in particular, reducing its significance, if not its function to that of the revolutionary illustrators, seen by others in its immediate perspective. [8]

Needless to clarify, because in politics, as Marti said, the real is not seen — that these aesthetic disputes were part of a struggle for cultural power, for control of certain areas of influence. This became evident in 1961 with the controversy over the movie PM and the subsequent closure of the publication Lunes de Revolución, a measure that led to the creation of La Gaceta de Cuba, a literary publication from the Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) that has lasted until today.

The movie PM turned out to be a historic controversy because it gave rise to “Words to the Intellectuals,” Fidel’s speech which fortunately has served ever since — except during the dramatic pavonato interregnum — as a guiding principle of our cultural policy.

PM was a modest free-cinema essay, a little documentary of Saba Cabrera Infante and Orlando Jiménez Leal which had passed unnoticed by television in a program sponsored by Lunes de Revolución, i.e. by Carlos Franqui and Guillermo Cabrera Infante. The two — Franqui and Guillermo — had one great virtue: a vision of a modern and dynamic art, literature and journalism, as evidenced by the Revolution newspaper and its literary supplement, Lunes (Monday).

But both had also a major flaw, given the circumstances: they were anti visceral, and hated anything that smacked of the Soviet Union and the PSP. The ICAIC  refused to display PM in theaters, sparking the controversy. [9] One would say that at some point both the leadership and the intelligentsia ICAIC PSP rose to the top leadership of the government these dramatic questions: Who are the ones to make films in Cuba? Who are the ones to institutionally represent our writers and artists? The answers were falling from the tree.

But something had slipped from our hands, because during the second half of the decade events occurred that would have dire consequences for the normal development of revolutionary culture: the establishment of the Military Units of Assistance to Production (UMAP), for example — which lasted three years and left a few scars — and the institutional rejection of two prizewinning books from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) literary competition (The Seven Against Thebes by Antón Arrufat, and Out of the Game, by Heberto Padilla), not to speak of passing stories, albeit symptomatic ones, such as the hostile climate aroused among certain functionaries by the appearance of Lezama’s Paradiso (1966), owing to its supposed exaltation of homoeroticism (it was said that copies had been ordered removed from some bookstores).

The unfortunate UMAP initiative, the idea of young homosexuals as well as religious people — above all Jehovah’s Witnesses, who by conviction rejected the use of arms — fulfilling their military service in work units, not combat units, seemed related to the male chauvinist vision of those bourgeois fathers who would send their most rebellious or fearful sons to military schools to “make men out of them.”

I remember having told the friend to whom I previously alluded, when he asked me about discrimination against homosexuals in Cuba, that this attitude had nothing to do with the Revolution, that it was coming to us from ages past via the dual track of Judeo-Christian morality and ignorance, but that perhaps the emotional climate of that permanently besieged place (Cuba) — which included the constant exaltation of virile virtues — as well as the obsession for straightening out so many twisted aspects of the old society, caused us to want to straighten or restore homosexuals, too, who not surprisingly had always been referred-to by euphemisms such as inverts or effeminates. [10]

I totally reject the idea, because it seems to me cynical and inexact, that this naive or stupid voluntarism has anything to do with the aspiration to form a “New Man” — one of the most cherished longings of man, preceding even Christianity — such as was articulated in our environment by Che and as we would ourselves repeat, alluding to Plautus’s homo homini lupus — so quoted by Marx — when we would speak of a society where man would not be wolf to man, but rather his brother.

Now, I am convinced that the pathological level homophobia, as institutional policy, during the Five Grey Years, is a subject of concern not so much to sociologists but to psychoanalysts and priests, that is, to those professionals capable of peering fearlessly into the “obscure abysses of the human soul.” It also would not be superfluous to reflect on those repressive or “disciplinary” methods invented by the bourgeoisie and so well-studied by Foucalt in some chapter of Keep Watch and Punish.

4

The prizewinning books by Padilla and Arrufat in the UNEAC competition were published with a prologue in which the institution asserted its disagreement with them: they were works that served “our enemies,” but now were going to be useful means to other ends, one of which was to “outline openly the ideological struggle.”

It was then — between November and December of 1968 — when in the magazine Verde Olivo (“Olive Green”) appeared five articles whose authorship is attributed to Luis Pavón Tamayo, an unprovable conjecture because the author used a pseudonym — the sadly famous Leopoldo Ávila — who has yet to be revindicated by anyone.

The first article expouned on the conduct of Guillermo Cabrera Infante who, just a few months earlier, in the magazine Primera Plana of Buenos Aires, had declared himself a fervent enemy of the Revolution…after having strenuously served it during several years as Cultural Attache’ in Brussels.

The two following articles dealt aggressively with Padilla and Arrufat; and the last two, with issues in the intellectual sphere, among them the level of “depolitization” from which, in Ávila’s opinion, our own writers and critics were suffering [11].

I don’t need to emphasize the tense climate that prevailed in those months, because already a group of colleagues — Cubans (Retamar, Desnoes, and I) as well as Latin Americans (Roque Dalton, René Depestre and Carlos Mari’a Gutiérrez) expounded our ideas on the matter in a round table of sorts that we held in May of 1969 and which was published, first, in the magazine Casa de las Americas (“Americas House”) and later in Mexico, by Siglo XXI (“Century XXI”), under the predictable title of The Intellectual and Society [12].

The ideological tournament announced by Avila was hinted at in occasional skirmishes, but had been gradually acquiring an increasingly international character due in part to the attacks on the Revolution that various intellectuals had made in Europe — Dumont, Karol, Ensensbert — and in part also because one of the panelists that had awarded the prize to Arrufat and Padilla, the English critic J.M. Cohen, decided to participate in his way in the debate.

To all this was added the appearance in Paris of the magazine Mundo Nuevo (“New World”), edited by the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodriguez Monegal; very soon thereafter his countryman Angel Rama, relying on reports in The New York Times, denounced the publication as a “cultural facade of the CIA” [13]. In the opinion of the specialists, Mundo Nuevo’s ultimate purpose was to dispute Casa de las Americas convening power and to undermine the image of the “committed” artist or writer that the Cuban Revolution had been proposing as a model for the intellectuals of our America [14].

It was this model, to be sure, that for us served as the reason or basis for the famous “Letter to Neruda” which towards the end of 1966 we caused to be circulated throughout all corners of the continent, and was also what prevailed a year later in the Preparatory Seminar of the Havana Cultural Congress, where it was revealed that a large contingent of our intelligentsia was working out, from Jose Marti’s thoughtand Marxist viewpoints, an anti-colonial school of thought, more in keeping with our reality and with Third World problems than with Eurocentric ideological currents running on both sides of the Atlantic.

The magazine Pensamiento Critico (“Critical Thought”) and the excellent catalog of social science publications that the recently created Instituto del Libro (“Institute of the Book”) was already promoting also fulfilled and important role in this bold process that we would call “consciousness raising” or “cultural decolonization”, and to which, for sure, none of the famous instructional manuals recently imported from the USSR, could contribute anything.

The Havana Cultural Congress was held in January, 1968, with hundreds of intellectuals and artists from the world over participating, in a climate of revolutionary optimism which objectively, nonetheless, was reduced to its minimal expression because hardly two months earlier Che had died in Bolivia — an event that was frustrating the nascent continental emancipation project that had started gestating in 1959.

Meanwhile, the international prestige of Cuban culture had grown thanks to the professionalism and creativity of artists and writers, on the one hand, and the work of cohesion and dissemination accomplished by the Casa de las Americas and the ICAIC on the other; there was the vigorous presence of the cinema, ballet, graphic design, theater, music (with the nascent Nueva Trova), the Conjunto Folklorico, and literature (this last manifesting two emerging modalities: the testimonial/novel and the Narrative of Violence). Observing such a panorama anyone could have said, alluding to Avila’s diagnosis: “If all this is the product of a depoliticized intelligentsia, may God come and see it”.

6

I would like to conclude this here with the general scheme of prehistory — viewed from a more or less fair perspective, more or less distorted by a participant who, as is natural, tends to bring his own perspective — but I’m afraid the rodeo isn’t over yet. There are still factors, as it were, objective and subjective, national and international that have to be taken into account to get to the point afterwards. So I ask you, please, a little more patience.

What occurred with Out of the Game following its publication we now see as the early stages of the “Padilla case”. He continued living a more or less normal life and announced (I don’t know if he actually gave) a recital at UNEAC of the poems in a book in progress that would have the suggestive title Provocacions — don’t be dirty minded, I was alluding to Arnold Hauser’s observation in the sense that works of art are, justifiably, challenging invitations to dialogue.

In December of 1968 Padilla even had a skirmish with Cabrera Infante in which, upon rejecting his support, he accused him of being a “counterrevolutionary who intends to create a difficult situation for anyone who has not followed his same path”…[15].

Because of a character flaw, Padilla could not remain for long in second place; he took advantage of a survey conducted by El Caiman Barbudo (“The Bearded Caiman”) to attack the editors because they were interested in Urbino’s Passion, the recently published novel by Lisandro Otero, while at the same time belittling Three Trapped Tigers by Cabrera Infante.

Every so often we would hear it said that he was very active as an impromptu consultant to diplomats and foreign journalists travelling through Havana, whom he would instruct on most dissimilar subjects: the destiny of socialism, worldwide revolution, emerging Cuban literature…

And one fine day in April of 1971 we received lamentable rumors, which later were confirmed as fact: that he had been jailed — for three weeks, according to some, or for five, according to others — and that he was going to make some public statements at UNEAC.

These turned out to be a pathetic mea culpa and a hasty list of accusations against friends and acquaintances, both absent and present. Knowing Padilla as we knew him, knowing that his long experience as a press correspondent in Moscow had turned him into an incurable skeptic, it is difficult to believe that his statement — so reminiscent of the shameful “confessions” in the Moscow trials — was not designed as a coded message, aimed at his colleagues all over the world.

Be that as it may, what is certain is that the message, the self-fulfilling prophecy, arrived at its destination. But already days prior, at his arrest becoming known in Europe, the process had been initiated which on this side of the Atlantic would result in the First National Congress on Education and Culture [16].

6

In effect, on the 9 April 1971, there had appeared in a Paris daily, Le Monde, an open letter which various European and Latin American intellectuals were addressing to Fidel to express their alarm at the arrest, which they saw as a possible new outbreak of sectarianism on the island.

It was like entering the lion’s den without taking proper precautions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that letter — and the unusual fact that among the signatories appeared Carolos Franque, now become zealous prosecutor of the Revolution — which precipitated the decision to convert the advertised First Congress on Education to First Congress on Education and Culture.This event took place in the conference rooms of the Habana Libre Hotel between April23-30.

In his closing address, Fidel would accuse as arrogant and overbearing those “bourgeois liberals”, instruments of cultural colonialism, that interfered in our internal affairs without the least notion of what our real problems were: the need to defend ourselves against imperialism, the obligation to attend to and provide for millions of children in the schools…

“One has to be completely crazy, infinitely unconscious,” he said, “disconnected from world reality” to think “that the problems of this country can be the problems of two or three lost sheep…”, or that someone, from Paris, London or Rome, could set themselves up as judge to dictate what we should do. Therefore, intellectuals of this type would never return here as judges in our literary competitions, nor as collaborators in our publications…[17]

Seen from the current perspective, this reaction might seem unmeasured, although consistent with a total policy of affirming national identity and sovereignty; in any case, what is certain is that the situation in its entirety marked a point of rupture or chilling between the Revolution and numerous European and Latin American intellectuals who up until then had considered themselves friends and fellow travelers [18].

It remains a representative document, as a revolutionary manifesto of that moment, which it certainly transcended to become a cultural manifesto of the Third World the essay by Retamar Caliban, written just two months after the closing of the Congress.

The country then was going through a period of accumulated tensions, among which stood out the death of Che, the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, which the Cuban government approved, although with much reticence,, the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — a process perhaps premature, perhaps even unnecessary of the expropriation of small enterprises and private businesses — and the aborted [sugar cane] harvest of ’70 or the Harvest of the Ten Million [tons], that despite being “the biggest in our history,” as proclaimed by the newspapers, left the country exhausted.

Forced to undergo the imperialist economic blockage, in need of a stable market for its products, especially sugar, Cuba had to radically define its alliances. There occurred a major coming together with the Soviet Union and with the European socialist countries. In 1972 the country would join the Council of Mutual Economic Aid (CAME), which would structurally link our economy with that of the socialist camp.

7

From the Congress on Education and Culture emerged, with Luis Pavon Tamayo at the helm, a transformed CNC, none of whose directors, as far as I can recall, had any natural ties to the avant garde. The links of continuity had been carefully broken or at minimum reduced. Judging from their actions, the “pavonato” was just that: an attempt to dispute the power, or rather, to remove from power those groups that until then had imposed their predominance on the field of culture and that apparently were not, save a few exceptions, “politically trustworthy”.

The only ones saved, although with their faculties greatly reduced, were those who belonged to autonomous institutions headed by prestigious figures, such as those cases already referenced from La Casa de las Americas and the ICAIC.

We know that in this type of conflict not only are esthetic disagreements or personal phobias resolved but also, and perhaps above all, questions of power, of control of processes and of the hegemony of ideologies.

It is enough to cast a glance at the situation of the publishing houses, the theaters, the magazines, the galleries, the artistic spaces, in short of the promotion and dissemination of artistic and literary culture in the ’60s to realize those groups that we considered the avant garde were the ones who, directly or indirectly, controlled the most important of these.

An obtuse bureaucrat could opine whatever he wanted regarding Farraluque or the theater of the absurd, but Paradiso and La Soprano Calva (“The Bald Soprano”) were there, right at hand; he could reject pop or Death of a Bureaucrat, but Raul Martinez and Titon remained there, engrossed in new projects.

In 1970, to celebrate Lezama’s birthday, his 60th, there appeared in Bohemia a long interview (reproduced in Cuba Internacional), a complete testimonial record in La Gaceta de Cuba and the volume of his complete poems (including the dates) published by The Institute of the Book it collection Letra Cubanas (“Cuban Letters”) [19]. That is, there were tensions and disagreements, but things were not so simple: what the publishers and magazines published, what the galleries exhibited, what the theaters released, what the ICAIC filmed served to show who it was (those of us) who pulled the strings of the “cultural industry”, even to where our ideology became hegemonic, despite the rejection and suspicion of it among those professional ideologists whom we would charitably call the “guardians of doctrine” (headed by a high-level Party functionary who, according to rumors, was Pavon’s political godfather [20].

If I had to summarize in two words what happened, I would say that in ’71, to our detriment, the relative equilibrium that had favored us up to that point was broken and, with that, the consensus on which the political culture had been based.

It was a clear case of before and after: following a phase in which everything was consulted and discussed, although the parties might not always come to agreement, came that of authoritarian order: a political culture imposing itself by decree and other such means, of exclusions and marginalizations, converting the intellectual field into a moor (at least for those carriers of the virus of ideological diversionism and for the youth with proclivities towards extravagance, that is, fans of long hair, the Beatles and tight pants, as well as the Evangelicals and the scapularies).

We were all guilty, in effect, but some were more guilty than others, as could be seen in the case of the homosexuals. Upon them weighed not only suspicions of a political nature, but also scientific certainties, proceeding perhaps from some positivist manual from the late 19th century or from some precept of the Cultural Revolution in China: that homosexuality was a contagious disease, a type of leprosy incubated in classist societies, whose propagation it was necessary to try to impede while avoiding contact — not only physical, but even spiritual — of the infected with the most vulnerable sectors (in this case, the young).

As incredible as it may seem to us today — in effect, the sleep of reason engenders monsters — it is not preposterous to think that this was the foundation, let’s say theoretical, that served in ’71-’72 to establish the “parameters” applied in those high-risk sectors of labor, as were the teaching profession and, above all, the theater.

It had been concluded that the simple influence of the teacher or the actor over the adolescent student or spectator could be risky, which explains that in a commission of the Congress of Education and Culture, upon tackling the issue of the social environment’s influence over education, it should be determined that it was not “permissible that through artistic quality known homosexuals should gain a prestige that would influence the formation of our youth”. Even further: “The cultural media cannot frame the proliferation of false intellectuals who pretend to convert snobbism, extravagance and other social aberrations into expressions of revolutionary art…” [21]

In centers dedicated to teaching or the theater, those workers who would not meet the requirements or “parameters” that would qualify them as trustworthy individuals — that is, revolutionaries and heterosexuals — would be transferred to other workplaces.

The purification or “parametrification” process would be done under the strict oversight of an ad hoc commissioner known from then on in our circle as Torquesada (who not too long ago, incidentally, appeared on another television program, although not as an honored guest).

It will please you to know that although at that time there were still no Marielas equipped to speak with accuracy and wisdom, there were, of course, tribunals to enforce the law. Through their respective trade unions and sheltered by Labor Justice law, the parametrized appealed to the Supreme Tribunal and it determed — in a historic, unprecedented case — that the “parametification” was an unconstitutional measure and that the claimants should be indemnified. [22]

I need not add that to the prejudices regarding sexual conduct were added prejudices about intellectual conduct itself, especially because many members of the “lettered city” [translator’s note: “law degreed professionals”] conceived of their social mission in their capacity as judges, as society’s “critical consciences.”

We know that from ancient times, writing and related activities correspond to the particular conditioning of societies divided into classes and castes, and that, therefore, as much as possible must be done, starting with teaching people to read and write, to at least reduce the resulting inequities; but to pretend that these inequities can be abolished with the stroke of a pen and, even more, that the functions performed by intellectual and manual laborers are interchangeable, makes one think of demagogueries or absurdities.

I remember a journalist around that time who would go around to the cane fields of the country exclaiming, with sincere or fake enthusiasm, “You should write, machete-wielders!” I would have given anything to see their faces and imagine a possible reply: “And you come and cut sugar cane, you scoundrel!”… because manual laborers also have prejudices, which tend to come out when they sense demagoguery or moral duplicity.

From the old society we inherited, some or others of us, the notion that the majority of intellectuals and artists — at least those who do not engage in any truly gainful activities — are a class of “parasites”. That a guiding center of the culture should contribute to reinforcing this prejudice was an unforgivable show of pharisee-ism and incompetence.

In any case, the CNS had made clear that the “old ones” needed to be corralled, including those of us who by then were hardly even 40yrs old… but therefore anyway we were already contaminated, so that the cultural power could be ceded to the younger generation, with the intent of them utilizing that power through experienced and politically trustworthy teams.

Very quickly there became established throughout the country a network of “literary workshops” charged with developing the new writers and the Amateur Movement was frenetically pushed. It was what the country folk, at least from my era, would call “to temper with carbide”. Everyone was in a hurry and the relay could not fail.

8

I believe that at last –  at last! –we are able to broach the topic suggested by Desiderio as the point of departure for this debate. The mountain can now give birth to its mouse.

In the avalanche of e-mails that were arriving these past few days was one from the storyteller from Santiago, Jose M. Fernandez Pequeno — who today resides in Santo Domingo — who helps me specify exactly an important fact: when did I begin to use the name The Five Grey Years to designate this phenomenon that today we also call the pavonato?

“I believe I was present at the defining moment for the crystallization of the label Five Grey Years,” says Pequeno, evoking the Storytelling Congress that took place in Santiago de Cuba in November of 1980 (and with which materials, by the way, I prepared a pamphlet entitled Forecast for the 80s). In Pequeno’s opinion, it had to do with conjuring the memory of that “unfortunate period,” still so present, so that we could continue to “go forward and grow as persons and as writers. We had to trace a dividing line, and in that sense “I believe that the name served its purpose” [23].

I recall that I would drop it here and there, along the way, at meetings and congresses of UNEAC and the recently created Ministry of Culture, and I further recall that it produced varying reactions, of acceptance or rejection, per the labor background of the individuals with whom I was speaking. But the first time that I used the term in writing was in 1987, in a literary criticism text published in the Casa de las Americas magazine. It said, in discreet footnotes: “Bureaucratic tendencies in the cultural sphere that manifested during the Grey Five years […] note that I don’t define the meaning of the term, as if it went without saying — but the brakes on, but did impede the later development of the various literary trends”.

And further on: “The Grey Five Years, with its emphasis on the didactic, favored the development of the police novel and literature for children and adolescents” [24]. These were elements that objectively, in my judgement, contributed to the grayness of the era, because the “emphasis on the didactic” placed literary creation in a subordinate, ancillary position, where there was hardly any room for experimentation, play, introspection and formal research.

But here I should insert a parentheses so as not to commit the sin, as the adversary would, of being dogmatic and simplistic. Supported by some university chairs, the CNC had let it slip into the ear of the young writers the malicious suspicion that socialist realism was the esthetic of the Revolution, an esthetic that dared not speak its name, among other things because it was never officially adopted in any instance by the Party or the government [25].

And because not all were young and not all was under the control of the CNC and its apprentices, the Five Grey Years, as a moment in time, was also the era of publication or gestation of some master works of our novelistic literature, such as Concierto Barroco (“Baroque Concer”) by Carpentier, and El Pan Dormido (“The Dormant Bread”) by Soler Puig. It was a son of the latter, by the way — Rafael who sadly died in a car accident — who would announce by way of two books of stories, riding from one era to the other, that something new was happening in Cuban storytelling.

And at the end of the decade some young people — I’m quoting a commentary I made at the time — “actualized the discourse” of our storytelling reinserting it in the line of development of Latin American storytelling, what with how they prepared the way for the works of the ’80s to be born with the mark of “that rejuvenating urge, at the discursive as well as thematic level” [26].

That is, already by then the deleterious effects of that normative esthetic that had been so diligently promoted by the workshops and university chairs had started to evaporate. I will go so far as to say that in 1975 the pavonato, as a project of political culture, was in its final throes.

But it is true, as I believe, that the defining characteristic of this era is he binomial dogmatism/mediocrity, the loss of power could not signify its total disappearance, because mediocre and dogmatic individuals are everywhere and they tend to turn into diligent allies of those political corpses that even after death win battles.

I have no qualms in asking the forgiveness of so many comrades who, having personally suffered the pavonato’s abuses – the cruelest of which without doubt was their civil death as professionals, at times for prolonged periods – consider that the term. Five Grey Years not only is euphemistic but even offensive, because it minimizes the degree of the wrongs perpetrated and therefore decreases the responsibility of the guilty.

The majority of those comrades — not all of them “parametrized ones”, for sure, some simply “punished” for their ideological divergences, the ones that would be corrected by working hard en agriculture or industry — proposed the alternative Black Decade [27].

I respect their opinion, but I was referring to something else: to the cultural atmosphere that I have been describing, in which in addition there was bred a revolutionary fervor and what had been searched for and a passionate cause became goals to be met. If the indicators change, it follows that the chronological markers and the coloring should change as well. If instead of defining the pavonato by its mediocrity I define it by its malice, I would have to view it as a dangerous and grotesque phenomenon, because there is nothing more fearful than a dogmatist bent on redeeming and nothing more ridiculous than an ignoramus dictating lessons.

There are events of the period — including the final days of the period – that can be considered crimes of perverted culture and even of perverted patriotism, as was the veto that in 1974 was imposed on the publication in Cuba of Ese Sol del Mundo Moral (“That Sun of the Moral World”), by Cintio Vitier, a Jose Marti-based and Fidelist essay that explains like few others why the immense majority of Cubans are proud to be so. As good guardians of doctrine, the censors warned right away that it was not a Marxist vision of Cuban history. So it appeared in Mexico before it did here; in fact, here it took 20 years to be published, I don’t know if because of dogmatic inertias or of simple editorial laziness [28].

Perhaps never in our environment a sigh of relief so unanimous been heard as that produced before the television screens on the afternoon of the 30 of November of 1976 when, during the closing session of the National Assembly of Popular Power, it was announced that a Ministry of Culture would be created and that the minister would be Armando Hart.

I believe that Hart didn’t even expect to take this position to start to reunite with the people. Old and young. Militants and non-militants. He didn’t ask if one liked the Matamoros or the Beatles, if he appreciated realist painting more than abstract, if he preferred strawberry over chocolate or vice versa; what he asked was if one was willing to work.

I had the impression that the confidence that had been lost would be quickly reestablished and that consensus would again be possible. I remember remarking to my friend Agustin Pi — the legendary Dr. Pi — how surprising was that sudden change in atmosphere, and while I expected that he was going to speak to me of Hart’s impeccable revolutionary path or of his intellectual merits, I heard him say, with a vocabulary that already at that time had fallen into disuse , “It’s just that Hart is a decent person”.

I believe it was in that precise moment when I was absolutely certain that the confounded Five Years were truly a five year period and it had just ended. It’s not that the tensions definitely disappeared, those conflicts of opinion or of interests that never stop emerging in a living culture, rather that the relations were always of mutual respect and authentic interest in the normal development of our culture.

I appreciate your attention and your patience. I hope that my digressions have served at least to offer to the younger generation some information and a perspective that they surely lacked. I recognized that the information is still very general and the point of view very limited, but here I only aimed — abiding by Desiderio’s suggestion — to provide the framework for a possible debate.

I repeat that in my judgement our culture – today as much or perhaps more than ever – is a living thing. For reasons of age I tend to frequently evoke the past, but it is an exercise that I detest when it threatens to become an obsession. At times, speaking before foreign groups about our literary movement, I encounter individuals, mostly men, who insist on asking me only about events that happened 30 or 40 years ago, as if after the “Padilla case” or the exit of Arenas via Mariel nothing had occurred in our domain.

I call that type of curious person Philosophers of Delayed Time or Egyptologists of the Cuban Revolution. But in evoking the Five Grey Years I feel that we are headlong into something that not only concerns the present but also projects us firmly into the future, even were it only for what Santayana spoke about “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That danger is precisely what we are trying here to avert.

Ambrosio Fornet

Havana, 30 January 2007

_____________________________________________
1. Sobre la dinámica intelectual del período, véase el recién publicado Polémicas culturales de los sesenta. Sel. y Pról. de Graziella Pogolotti. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2006
2. Cf. Miguel Sabater Reyes: “José Soler Puig fue mi amigo”, en Palabra Nueva, no. 157 (La Habana), noviembre de 2006, p. 54.
3. Virgilio Piñera: “Al señor Fidel Castro”, en: Diario libre, Sección Arte y Literatura (La Habana), 14 de marzo de 1959, p.2. (Se reproduce en Viaje a los frutos. Selección de Ana Cairo. La Habana, Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, 2006, p.58).
4. Ver Nota 12.
5. Refiriéndose a Aníbal Escalante, Secretario de Organización del PSP (y más tarde de las ORI), dijo Fidel: “Al triunfo de la Revolución, poseía gran autoridad, y desde ese cargo actúa prácticamente como jefe de su Partido. Era un hombre capaz, inteligente y buen organizador, pero con el arraigado hábito de filtrar y controlar todo a favor de su Partido.” Cien horas con Fidel. Conversaciones con Ignacio Ramonet. 2ª ed. La Habana, Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado, 2006, p. 249.
6. Mirta Aguirre: “Apuntes sobre la literatura y el arte”, en Cuba Socialista, octubre de 1963. (Se reproduce en Revolución, letras, arte. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1980, p.201.
7. Ibid., p.219. La autora, por supuesto (ver p. 215) descarta la posibilidad de imponer las nuevas ideas mediante la coacción o la violencia.
8. Alfredo Guevara: Revolución es lucidez. La Habana, Ediciones ICAIC, 1998, p.203.
9. El punto de vista del ICAIC fue expresado por Alfredo Guevara en “Las revoluciones no son paseos de rivieras”, entrevista de Wilfredo Cancio publicada en La Gaceta de Cuba en diciembre de 1992. (Se reproduce en Revolución es lucidez, ed. cit. supra, pp.88-90.)
10. Cf. Emilio Bejel: Escribir en Cuba. Entrevistas con escritores cubanos: 1979-1989. Río Piedras, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1991. pp.155 y ss.
11. Fueron recogidos por Lourdes Casal en El caso Padilla: literatura y Revolución en Cuba (ver nota 15).
12. “Diez años de Revolución: el intelectual y la sociedad”, en Casa de las Américas, no. 56, sept.-oct., 1969; y Roque Dalton, René Depestre, Edmundo Desnoes, et. al.: El intelectual y la sociedad. México, Siglo XXI editores, 1969.
13. Sobre la polémica con Mundo Nuevo, ver Casa de las Américas, no. 39, nov.-dic., 1966. Ver también el exhaustivo estudio de María Eugenia Mudrovcic: “Mundo Nuevo”: Cultura y Guerra Fría en la década del 60. Rosario, Beatriz Viterbo, 1997.
14. Cf. Claudia Gilman: Entre la pluma y el fusil. Debates y dilemas del escritor revolucionario en América Latina. Buenos Aires, Siglo Veintiuno Editores Argentina, 2003.
15. Cf. Heberto Padilla: “Respuesta a Guillermo Cabrera Infante”, en revistas Índice (Madrid), dic. 1968, p. 9, y Primera Plana (Buenos Aires), no. 313, diciembre 24 1968, pp. 88-89. (Se reproduce en El caso Padilla: Literatura y Revolución en Cuba. Documentos. Sel., pról. y notas de Lourdes Casal. New York, Ediciones Nueva Atlántida/Miami, Ediciones Universal, s.f. En su introducción (pp.5-10) Casal hace un recuento de aquellos hechos y situaciones que, a su juicio, condujeron finalmente al “caso” estudiado.
16. La intervención de Padilla en la UNEAC puede verse en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971, pp. 191-203.
17. Cf. Fidel Castro: Discurso de clausura del Primer Congreso Nacional de Educación y Cultura, en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971.
18. La situación se agravó con una “Segunda carta”, de 20 de mayo de 1971. (Se reproduce en Lourdes Casal, El caso Padilla…, ed. cit. en nota 15, pp.123-124.
19. Véanse entrevista de Joaquín G. Santana, artículo de Benito Novás y textos de Lezama y bibliografía en Bohemia, 1º de enero de 1971, pp. 4-15¸ así como homenaje en La Gaceta (no. 88, diciembre de 1970) con textos de Armando Álvarez Bravo, Reinaldo Arenas, Miguel Barnet, Pablo Armando Fernández, Belkis Cuza, Reynaldo González y Rosa I. Boudet.
20. Y probablemente superior jerárquico en lo concerniente a la llamada “esfera de la ideología”.
21. Cf. “Declaración” del Primer Congreso Nacional de Educación y Cultura, en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971.
22. Por lo pronto, que debían abonárseles todos los salarios no percibidos desde su destitución hasta aquel momento.
23. José M. Fernández Pequeño: “Gris, gris, ¿el quinquenio gris?”. Mensaje electrónico del 18 de enero de 2007. (Agradezco a Aida Bahr –una de las organizadoras del Encuentro—la verificación de la fecha.)
24. Cf. A.F.: “Sobre Las iniciales de la tierra”, en Las máscaras del tiempo. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1995, pp. 56 (n.4) y 62 (n.12).
25. Por ejemplo, entre las Tesis y Resoluciones aprobadas por el Primer Congreso del PCC en 1975 no aparece una sola mención al realismo socialista, aunque numerosos pasajes reflejan la convicción de que es la ideología la que rige todo el proceso de producción y valoración de la obra de arte. Especialmente significativo es el pasaje en que se habla de “el nexo del arte socialista con la realidad” y “la cualidad del reflejo vivo y dinámico de que hablara Lenin” (en contraste con el realismo como copia fotográfica). No se olvide, por lo demás, que la condena del Che al realismo socialista, en El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba, fue categórica. (Cf. “Sobre la cultura artística y literaria”, en Tesis y Resoluciones del Primer Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba. La Habana, Depto. De Orientación Revolucionaria del PCC, 1976, pp. 467-510, y esp. 506.
26. Cf. A.F.: “Las máscaras del tiempo en la novela de la Revolución cubana”, en Las máscaras del tiempo, ed. cit., p. 29.
27. Si no me equivoco, el primero en hacerlo fue el poeta César López, entrevistado por Orlando Castellanos. Véase “Defender todo lo defendible, que es mucho”, La Gaceta de Cuba, marzo-abril de 1998, p. 29.
28. Cf. Cintio Vitier: Ese sol del mundo moral. Para una historia de la eticidad cubana. México, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1975. La edición cubana, de Ediciones Unión, apareció en 1995. El libro entró en el plan editorial de Ediciones Unión en 1987, pero diversos factores –entre ellos el inicio del Período Especial—aplazaron durante años la publicación.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

Link to original post

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. 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 period that came to be called “The Five Grey Years” although it lasted longer than five years: 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.

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

I congratulate you with all my heart, that is the real Orlando I have known for almost 30 years, the brave and illustrious brother with whom I have shared so many ideas, sufferings, and joys. I also congratulate you because you have woken from a certain state of inertia that has been affecting you recently.

We all need ideas as clear as yours, especially during these times, and they will be necessary in the times to come.

A grateful hug

Jorge de Mello

P.S.: After writing to you the previous note, I decided to also send to you my reply to Mena that I have mentioned.

Abelardo, I agree with you, suspected that something like that would happen, told you so a couple of days ago, it all seems like more of the same. In so many opinions and reflections, from here and there, not once has the essential word, “Liberty,” been mentioned. What kind of society are we that we fear saying that word? What has happened to us?

The brief and considered reflection of Cesar Lopez, in which he recommends that we remain alert, ends with these words: “I am honorable, and afraid.” I admire the sincerity of the poet. In the opinions of the other prestigious and courageous intellectuals there is also fear, but we have to discover it amongst the rhetorical twists and turns, in the way that they avoid putting their finger in the wound. One would have to ask, why so much fear?

We are all afraid because we know that the immense bureaucratic machine that permitted the “pavonato,” and that is now trying to redeem it, is stronger every day.

It now shows off, after the so-called “centralization,” more power than ever — political/economic power that is unproductive, obtuse and harmful, which paralyzes the soul of the nation.

I believe that this should be the issue for analysis —  but in an open and truly revolutionary discussion that is not directed by those same powerful individuals who dominate the bureaucratic apparatus and its indescribably repressive mechanisms — so that an exchange can take place without restrictions, without censures, and include all the “thinking heads” of the country.

There are many revolutionaries and patriots who think with their own heads amongst educators, scientists, workers, students. What is happening is not a problem to be discussed just within the artistic domain.

I sincerely believe that this halting path (of tacit concessions and opportune tactics) that we have seen up to now in this little e-mail war, is not enough to light the way to our immediate future — which up to now I foresee as very dark, given that the bureaucrats continue to call the shots. All indications are that the protest will end, as you well state, in an administrative purge of some television official, in a new “explanation” and a call back to sanity to the intellectuals who wrote the letters. It appears that once more we’ll be left with no view of a possible solution to our old problems. Besides fear, I admit, I also feel shame.

As you well know, I am only a cultural laborer (and proud to be so), I am not a recognized or important artist or intellectual, which is why I’ve silently and hopefully read, without making pronouncements, all that I have received via e-mail.

I have read various opinions stating that those who do not have important work can use this moment in an opportune way to stand out, and things of this nature.

But because I have a brain for thinking, I make my own observations and want to share them with you in a very personal way. My observation might be more or less correct, but these ideas are what are going through my head and my heart at this moment.

Changing the subject. Where do you live now? Are you following the Virgin’s shadow, or are you my neighbor again? It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.

Hugs,

Jorge de Mello

From Jorge de Mello to Orlando Hernández

Landi

The fact that the program director who provoked this just protest was praised on another TV program, in the moment that all were expecting an apology, a correction, is a hard and overwhelming blow.

Padura considers that act a coincidence, Desiderio a provocation, to me it is nothing more than a show of force, of power, made with the objective of demonstrating that the powerful will not give in even an inch, as has always been the case. When has one of the “leaders” of the country apologized publicly?

Never has something like this occurred, and mistakes have been made, small and big, many of them with dire and painful consequences for the nation.

Hopefully this last demonstration of strength and arrogance won’t reach its objectives, causing the fear and deception necessary to paralyze the discussion and the state of opinion, so interesting and necessary for our society, which was being created.

How I wish I were wrong…

Last night I received this answer from Mena to a comment I made, don’t circulate it, but it’s interesting, I believe things are going as he says. How sad, what a deception!

Hugs,

J.

Translated by: Dolores M. Goizueta / Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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 workEd.] 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 “Messages of Desiderio Navarro / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate”

If we are going to talk about courageous cultural impacts in Cuban journalism, we need to mention ones like the man of letters who was Agustín Pí, who, in the same period, from his modest position on the newspaper Granma, helped many valuable people who were “out of favour” and ensured that the cultural pages of Granma were as open as possible at any given moment, and not turned into a wasteland of mediocrity and opportunism like so many other Cuban publications of that time.

In my article In media res publicas, I have talked about the responsibility of the politicians for the limitation of the critical role of the intellectual — above all in the years in which culture was managed by Luis Pavón — but this is only half the problem.  The other half — worthy of another similar article — is the responsibility of the intellectuals: without the silence and passivity of almost all of them (not to mention the complicity and opportunism of more than a few) the “Five Grey Years” or the “Pavonato,” as many now call it, would not have been possible, or, at any rate, would not have been possible with such great destructiveness. With certain exceptions, among the intellectuals, the heterosexuals (including those who were not homophobic) ignored the fate of the gays; the whites (including those who were not racist), the problems of the blacks demanding vindication; the traditionalists, of the fate of the vanguardists; the atheists (including the tolerant ones), the vicissitudes of the Catholics and other believers; the pro-Soviets, the fate of the anti-Real Socialists and of the Marxists unconnected with the philosophy of Moscow, and so on.  One wonders if this lack of individual moral responsibility could be repeated today among the Cuban intelligentsia.

We must, therefore, ask ourselves responsibly and without delay: Why at just this special moment in the history of our country when all our people are waiting to see what happens with the convalescence of the Commander in Chief, do we get this sudden and glorious media resurrection of Luis Pavón, with the generous iconographic unfolding of various old scenes with the the highest political leaders, and this just days after the no less sudden reappearance on the television of Jorge Serguera, who from the presidency of the ICRT [Cuban Institute of Radio and Televison] formed a perfect political cultural double-act with the CNC during the “Five Grey Years”?

“Happy is the man who finds out what causes things.”

Desiderio Navarro

January 6, 2007

Message from Desiderio Navarro to Reynaldo González

Dear Rey:

You can count on me for the collective development of this document, but it seems to me we should wait for other reactions like those of the three of us in the coming hours or days, which could reveal other angles to the problem and greatly enrich the document (and, incidentally, give us a measure of the sensibility and current attitudes of the intelligentsia with respect to this).  I speak of “days” because I am taking into account that many people only have email access through their workplace, that is, starting on Monday.

Do you agree?  Or do you think there are reasons to speed it up?

A hug

Desiderio

January 6, 2007

Another message from Desiderio Navarro

And, in addition to the one from Quesada, which I also find out about now, it was about two or three months ago, a whole programme on the Education Channel dedicated exclusively to extolling the crucial importance to Cuban culture of the National Congress of Education and Culture, but I saw it only a solitary swallow, outrageous but isolated. Now I see that that’s not so. Let’s talk about this proposal this evening (I’m leaving in the opposite direction now, from Los Naranjos to Havana). Even though the ICRT doesn’t accept it, they would be forced to drop the mask of “impartiality” as the nation’s mass media and make it very clear that they are abusing the State information tool to favor a cultural policy contrary to the Minister of Culture — one might rightfully say, if not with much quantitative accuracy, the cultural policy of a “tiny group.”

A hug,

Desiderio

January 8th, 2007

Message from Desiderio Navarro to Loly Estévez

Dear Loly:

I enclose the letter that, in response to one sent to me by Zenaida Romeu, I also sent to the members of the UNEAC Secretariat and other friends participating in the debate(s) arising from the three sudden reappearances, over a short period of time, of these three awful characters of Cuban cultural policy in the three programmes, without any mention of the Pavón years as president of the CNC in a programme on his “cultural impact.”  As you will see, I speak there of the many objections on my part (shared by Arturo Arango) to the writing of the document.  I was able to express them immediately in another meeting with the Secretariat, and can tell you that among them were found some that also figure in your Open Message to the UNEAC Secretariat:

We are not talking about a group” of intellectuals who are protesting:its relatively large size, and its lack of articulation for reasons of ties of friendship, class, aesthetic orientation, etc., does not permit us to call them a “group”, but rather “a large number of” intellectuals; I added that we are not looking at only “our most important” intellectuals, but also many others equally or less important who were also adding their voices and reasons;

...  that the lack of any mention of the true specific cause of the intellectual outrage, or the sudden reappearance of these these three awful characters of Cuban cultural policy, after thirty years, in three television programs so close together, would make people, the millions in the street, wonder what happened on these programs that was so bad: an attempt at another live wedding? sexual indecency? corruption, bribery? a counterrevolutionary comment or joke? and so many other questions about possible attacks on the irreversible cultural policy of the Revolution, leaving the figure of these characters and specific political meaning of what happened in the shadows, and putting under the spotlight, without distinctions, the teams of the three programmes who, together or not, could have been complicit with external forces, or simply acting on directions from higher-ups (which is what people are inclined to believe in your case), or clumsy ignoramuses with initiative and ingenuity (which almost no one believes in the case of the “Impact” and “The Difference”).

What I could not fail to personally tell the President of the ICRT is that I do not believe in lack of control as an explanation of the three incidents, because I have more than one personal experience to base that on: as you will remember, when you kindly invited me to participate in the programme “Open Dialogue” in a discussion about mass culture–a theme on which I’ve written and spoken a lot – it was put to you as a condition that I would not participate in a live programme, rather my participation would be recorded three days in advance so that it could be reviewed, eventually approved by the management bodies and only afterwards mechanically juxtaposed with the live dialogue of the other three participants (Julio Garcia Espinosa, among them), which, of course, I indignantly refused.

Control is what there is more than enough of in the ICRT for anything except racism, homophobia, mocking people with physical defects, a Yankeephilic worship of the Oscars, Grammys, MTV etc. as perfect examples of global assessment of the arts; nostalgia for pre-revolutionary kitsch, the cult of ancestry and artistic lineages, New Age ideology in its various manifestations, worship of the millions earned in contracts, ticket sales or auctions, and media fame, as criteria of artistic success; militant defense of banality from the neo-liberal relativism and consumerism, and much much else.

But, just as in the ’70s being in the CNC did not mean sharing its political culture (I myself worked in it between dismissal and dismissal) I know that still today to be in the ICRT is not to approve all its policies or, if you prefer the euphemism, its lack of control.

Best wishes and my hopes for a successful stay in Gijon.

Desiderio Navarro

Message from Desiderio Navarro to Zenaida Romeu

Dear Zenaida:

I agree with you and thank you very much for having included me in the addressees of your letter.

Well, in the text of the Declaration is states that in the two meetings they tried to reach a consensus with some of the authors of protests (in fact, with the first ones, chronologically), which is totally and absolutely true.  But neither I nor Artura Arango, nor other authors of protests participated in the subsequent formulation written in response, nor in its revision and final approval, which explains, that as expected, the only signer is the UNEAC Secretariat, and there are no signatures from the authors of protests, none of whom are members of the Secretariat.  Unfortunately, the wording gives the impression that we are co-signatories of the document, despite the fact that several of us — I know this includes at least Arturo Arango and myself — have numerous objections to make on the text itself, whose formulation does not reflect the frankness, depth and firmness with which, with names and surnames, facts, dates and the corresponding descriptions, they debated these themes at those two meetings, meetings about which UNEAC, our UNEAC, can be very proud and would have nothing to hide.

As a member of the National Council of UNEAC and as a member of the ranks, I hope that they will correct what has happened.

With best wishes

Desiderio Navarro

P.S.  I have just read this letter to Arturo Arango and he is totally in agreement with its contents.

Another message from Desiderio Navarro about the National Social Sciences Prize to Fernando Martínez Heredia.

Friends and comrades:

Arturo Arango’s recommendation to us to pay attention also to the National Social Sciences Prize awarded to Fernando Martínez Heredia, is so relevant that I followed it seven days before he formulated it in his message today, and thus, some days before the “cleaning of the biography” on television that worried us. I reproduce below the message I sent to Fernando the 31st of last month, as soon as I heard the good news.  There, as you will see, as well as celebrating the intrinsic value of the work and struggles of Fernando, the prize is also seen as a sign of fruitful possibilities.

Sadly, the two events that Arturo juxtaposes in his message–Fernando’s Prize and Pavón’s Epiphany–have to be seen as antagonistic signs, and not contradictory, as they come from very diverse institutional and political-cultural sources and not a single source which would be contradicting itself loudly and thoughtlessly or trying naively to reconcile the irreconcilable.

And now, to share that bottle  and  those stubborn revolutionary dreams with Fernando.

A hug

Desiderio

7 January 2007

Dear Fernando:

I have just found out, by reading the magnificent text by Guanche [Cuban lawyer, writer, essayist, editor – ed.] in La Jiribilla [a magazine about Cuban culture – ed.] , that they have awarded you the National Social Sciences Prize. Honestly, is one of the few great joys I have had this year. In culture, and even more in cultural policy, justice is slow … Eppur si muove [“and yet it moves” – what Galileo is supposed to have muttered after being forced to recant by the Inquisition – ed.] and finally arrives. In the words of Althusser [French Marxist philosopher – ed.] from  our youth, this award honours the Ideological Apparatus of the State [book by Althusser published 1969 – ed.] and opens up new hope in these times full of fruitful possibilities and insidious dangers.

Those who noticed the lexical and semantical similarity between the names of “Criterios” and “Pensamiento Crítico”, as being elements of the same lineage, weren’t mistaken. Those who saw, in the emergence of “Criterios” just seven months after the disappearance of “Pensamiento Crítico” a catalytic relationship, weren’t wrong either. In the history of the cultural struggles of the Cuban Revolution, both editorial efforts will be seen as a united desire to practice and preach Martí’s ethos of the grafting of the world into the core of our republics and the Marxist ethos of radical criticism. As I told Abel about three years ago at a meeting with Fowler and Reina María in his office, I haven’t lost hope that a Cuban journal of social thought will emerge that could be today, mutatis mutandis, what “Critical Thinking” was in its time, a magazine bearing the same name and directed by you. What an encouraging sign of health, strength and renewed ideological and cultural youth for a socialist revolution that would be! What news it would be of that critical and creative socialism which your essay advocates and prefigures with clarity and passion! Let me dream.

Dear Fernando, it is lucky to have the certainty that you will not be absorbed by any Canon and will make use of all the symbolic capital this award gives you on your continued efforts to do what Marx would really have done now.

A fraternal hug and I wish you and Esther a 2007 filled with new successes.

Desiderio

January 7, 2007

Another message from Desiderio Navarro

Comrades and friends, this is outrageous; not only does the ICRT not apologise, but rewards the director of the programme with an appearance in the headline midday programme, the same person whose work responsibility — if not policy intention — had been evident in recent meetings.

This is going to cause general indignation with unforseeable outcomes. Who is behind all this provocation? What microfraction, what little group? If there is no official condemnation, no-one is going to believe that it doesn’t have the blessing of the highest circles in the party. It is essential that we think up a deserved, but quick, response to this lack of respect for all those who last week met on two occasions in the UNEAC, starting with the Minister of Culture, and for all those who inside and outside Cuba have hoped for concrete results from that meeting and those who gave a vote of confidence to the Party and UNEAC.

A hug in these crucial moments for Cuban society.

Desiderio Navarro

Desiderio Navarro’s reply to Orlando Hernández

Dear Orlando

It seems to me there are some unfounded and unfair statements in the final paragraph of your letter to Arturo Arango, which I reproduce here:

I have just received Desiderio’s invitation for a conference in Opinions “The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term”, by Ambrosio Fornet as a part of the Cycle “The cultural policy of the Revolutionary period: Memory and reflection”, where you will also make an appearance. I think it’s excellent of course, but I am also worried that it will convert itself into an academic, “terminological”, etc. debate. Apart from this message from Desiderio, I have hardly received any new messages, only Amir’s text and the discussion between Rosa Ileana and Desiderio. And the El Pais article of course. So anyway, either there is nothing new to say, or it’s all been said? Hopefully, neither of these.

How can you say, not that you are worried that “this will convert”, “is going to be converted”, or “could be converted” into an academic “terminological” etc. debate, but, durative gerund and all, that you are worried that “it is converting itself” into such a debate? The last meeting in the UNEAC about this matter ended the day before yesterday at seven or eight at night and already yesterday at 11:10 at night I was sending around an email with an invitation for a whole cycle of conferences which had been organised in the 27 or 28 hours which had passed. I think very rarely has a Cuban cultural academic institution reacted so fast as Criterios has to the pressing needs of Cuban intellectual life. There are still some weeks to go before that conference, which would be the first, and you can already say that this is converting itself into an academic “terminological” debate? It looks as if you are rushing to prejudge it.

That said, is it damaging and unnecessary to have an academic debate about that period of Cuban cultural policy and its consequences, survival and relapses? Isn’t it perhaps the absence of investigations and academic events, of a whole academic literature, and not just essays about the topic, with its descriptions, analysis, interpretations, explanations and assessments, one of the principal causal factors which allow, among other things, that period and the phenomena of that period to subsequently survive or revive, remaining so unknown or unexplained for so many generations who didn’t live through it as young people or adults — as we have seen in many messages about those times?

On the other hand, who said that an academic debate implies the silencing of all non-academic debate about the same theme? In the first place, even if you wanted to, is there any way of silencing it? Since there isn’t any power, or technological media, to hold up the interchange and circulation of electronic messages which started a week ago. On the contrary: if the academic debate is serious, and not just pseudo-academic speculation, we need to listen carefully to all the empirical material floating around in those other discussions, all the ideas and experiences, the reflections and witnesses statements — which, in this case are very scarce — about everything that has been silenced or self-repressed for decades. And each and every one of us has the responsibility for continuing the discussion about these matters one way or another as long as there is a need to do so.

Ambrosio’s conference is called “The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Period”. Do you believe that discussing the expression “Five Grey Years” is just a superfluous terminological debate? Those of us who have taken part in the last few days’ electronic correspondence, also myself, in “Medias Res Publica” (“Public Affairs Media”) seven years ago, and César López before me — as Ambrosio himself said to me the day before yesterday — have questioned the “Five Grey Years” as a name for the period and as a chronological limitation. Having said that, can we view that questioning of the expression — and others besides which have come up, such as that of Rine Leal (Cuban theatre writer and critic) and also what I am sure Ambrosio will talk and argue about on the 30th — as a useless debate with aseptic academic terminology, or as a crucial problem of historical periodisation about cultural policy, in which you have to take a position about everything that happened, with so many creative works and lives, for years before 1971 and also years after 1975? It’s enough to remember that that the last attempt to impose the most dogmatic form of Soviet-style socialist realism as official doctrine took place between 1980 and 1983, in the middle of a tense ideological-political struggle between cultural personalities and institutions, given the change in the correlation of forces in the prolonged journey from total control to jockeying for position. None of this is just a question of words.

Having said that, Dear Orlando, I believe Ambrosio’s conference, which is father to the little child which has run so far, will start up the debate in media res – or going from the Latin to the language of local people — in concrete terms, far from Byzantine complications and closely focused on the relationship between words and deeds, without academic-speak, but also without vulgarity. The rest depends on the public, which is to say, including you. On that basis I am very happy that Ambrosio has agreed to participate in this round of remembering and reflecting and, more than that, to start it going.

About UNEAC’s reply, to repeat, I am not pressuring you, and we will wait for the President of UNEAC’s document, which he will shortly issue, on what has happened.

Best wishes, brother

Desiderio

14 January 2007

Desiderio Navarro’s reply to Rosa Ileana Boudet

For those who don’t have acces to the internet, or the time, to do a search, I show below the text which I emailed in October 2002 to the e-publication Teatro en Miami, in reply to an unexpected atack by Rosa Ileana Boudet in their pages.

In the name of the Rose

Desiderio Navarro

What has happened is that Rosa Ileana Boudet, in the website www.teatroenmiami.com, now writes something which from 1994 up to her recent emigration to the USA, she has never expressed here in a public conference or in writing, although she had, among other platforms, the pages of the theatre magazine Conjunto — which she was the director of for years before her departure — in which to offer whatever opinion about whatever theatrical publication, whether Cuban or foreign.

In her keenness to go off with a great fanfare in praise — which she also never did here in writing, as far as I know — of the relationship between the also-emigrated Cuban Gloria María Martínez [ex-teacher at the Instituto Superior de Arte, now working at a university in Chile – ed.] and the work of Patrice Pavis [Professor of Theatre Studies in the University of Kent, in England – ed.], the sees it as necessary to create a dramatic counter-figure resident in Cuba who had put up obstacles in the way of the success of the elevated cultural objectives her heroine had been fighting for Prometheus-like here up to her departure. Below I cite a passage from her recent article entitled “Patrice Pavis: his own vision”, which you can see in the above-mentioned website.

In 1989 (Pavis) participates in the Second International Debate, held in Havana, at the invitation of Desiderio Navarro, who, years later, compiles and translates El Teatro and its reception, semiology, crossing of cultures and postmodernism, published in the same collection in the magazine of opinion and culture studies in 1994, and which is perhaps still to be found in the Rayuela de la Casa de las Américas bookshop. Navarro has gathered together the worries of the author about that “other” Latin American. Unfortunately a history of disputed translations — and some pedantry — made it more difficult, when it came out, for the book to bring us up to date on Pavis, and publishes texts unknown in our language relating to Le Théâtre au croisement des cultures (1990) or Theatre at the Crossroads of Culture, (1992) and Confluences. Cultural dialogues in contemporary performance (1992).

On the other hand, the contrast created between Gloria María’s “handcrafted editions”for the ISA students (mentioned just before by Rosa Ileana) and my anthology in the form of a book, tries to get across connotations of semantic opposition between the “fringe” and the “official”, as if Criterios, from some position of supreme political power (ludicrous and risible fantasy in the eyes of any knowledgeable Cuban in the last few decades), which would have obstructed Gloria María Martínez from publishing her translations in any of the Cuban editorials of that time (as evidenced by her publishing them in the Cuban magazines Conjunto and Tablas); as if the intermittent and hazardous history of Criterios had not precisely been a story — unfortunately in large measure of one person — of battles, defeats, frustrations and small victories against official dogmatism to open Cuba up to the wide variety of international theoretical thought.

Saying that, it happens that my anthology of the general theory of Pavis, El teatro and its reception includes, among others, exactly four of the five general theory texts from Pavis’ book “Theatre at the crossroads of culture”, namely,” “Toward a theory of culture and theatrical production,From the text to the scene: a difficult childhood”, “The classical heritage of postmodern theatre” and “Towards the special character of theatrical production: translation between gestures and between cultures”. (The fifth theory text, an analysis of theatrical theory in 1985, was not included because it was already obsolete in 1993 and Pavis himself in two 1990 footnotes asserts: “This chapter drives me toward a level of subjectivity which I would not want to deal with any more today”, and with respect to his own theories about the theory in the East, “I am pleased to see that in 1990 all of that is past history.”)

More than that, my anthology also includes Pavis’ postface article, “Towards a theory of interculturality in theatre?” from the book Confluences. The Dialogue of cultures in contemporary performance (of which Rosa Ileana seems unaware that it is not a theory book by Pavis, but his anthology of other peoples’ writing). Or that in my anthology I translated and published the “texts unknown in our language” which, according to Rosa, I prevented being published.

On the other hand, my anthology, finished at the beginning of 1994, included texts published by Pavis not only between 1982 and 1990 (up to his last book at that time) , but — thanks to the generosity  and diligence of Pavis himself — also a text published by him in the autumn-winter of 1993 (“Towards a theory of the actor’s art”, Degrés, no.75-76), that’s to say up to only one month before the conclusion of my work as a translator and editor and only six months before the appearance of the printed edition (July 1994). Never in Cuba has the appearance of a foreign book of theory followed so closely in time after the initial publication of the work in its original language — and what’s more in the worst publishing moment of the so-called “Special Period”. And that was how I obstructed “the book updating us on Pavis”.

I am not surprised at the “men’s probable ingratitude” toward the only person in Cuba who, committing a good part of his investigative time and his income, has translated from twelve languages and published more than 300 texts of foreign theory over more that 30 years — among those authors Pavis is only one among more than 100 — in order that his Cuban colleagues could have access to examples of the best of worldwide theoretical thought which would otherwise have remained inaccessible materially and/or linguistically to many of them. I have pretty well got used to that demonstrable ingratitude on the part of many men — and women.

Neither do I feel surprised by the meanness with which that same person who, trusting in the nonexistent marketing and limited international access to the editions of Criterios, this same person who more than once rejected an article of mine when she (co)directed the Revolution and Culture magazine, as a trusted and diligent assistant to Luis Pavón (President of the National Culture Council) in questions of policy relating to cultural information during the period which some continue to insist on calling the “Five Grey Years”, now, from Miami reverts to the clumsiest lies in order to throw mud at my work and my intellectual ethics, in her hasty baptism in the waters of Theatre in Miami, Meeting in the Network and other similar diaspora publications. As far as I’m concerned, she can continue doing her “theatre in Miami” with every kind of true or false Glorias of the diaspora; there will be a good friend who recommends that she write for herself a script whose local villains can’t reply demonstrating easily the untruthfulness of her slurs, either because they are dead, or they are decrepit.

Oh dear, Gertrude, a Rosa is not always a rose …!

Los Naranjos, October 24th 2002

Appendix: As a demonstration of the kinds of discrepancies in translations — inadmissable above all in a work on theory — whose challenge by me Rosa Ileana, there and now, dares to call “pedantry” with a view to rescuing her heroine, I show below the footnote to page II of the introduction to my anthology. Not even the Spanish subtitles to North American films reach such heights!

  • Here is a small example, taken at random, of a translation of “La herencia clásico del teatro postmoderno” (The classical legacy of postmodern theatre”) published in Apuntes, Santiago de Chile, 1-101, spring, 1990, pp. 117.127:
  • It says”Vitez wants to reinvent tradition, removing all trace of it from herself. (en s’en démarquant) It should say “Vitez wants to reinvent tradition, distancing herself from it” (“se démarquer”: “to distance yourself from something”): from here on the dictionary definitions are from Petit Robert)
  • It says: “opening it (the text and the mise en scene) to a series of trails which are self-contradictory, they cut back [se recoupent]” It should say “opening it  to a series of trails which are self-contradictory, which happen to meet” (recouper, pronoun., “Intersecar. Fig. to meet, agreeing”).
  • It says: The work vigorously denies the feeling is respectful, by this logic with [est tenue par cette logique à] the same coherence and the same unity as those which should, at another time, evoke this feeling.
  • It should say: “The work that rigorously denies the sense is obligated, by this logic, to have the same coherence and same unity that formerly should have evoked the sense.” (être tenu à: “estar obligado a (una acción)”.
  • It says: “The postmodernism, conceived as a practice of destruction (déconstruction)”
  • It should say “The postmodernism, conceived as a practice of deconstruction
  • It says: “This record is effected … by the recovery (des reprises) of sentences”
  • It should say: “This record is effected … by repetitions of sentences (reprise: “action of saying again, repeating)
  • It says: “The music of Stockhausen like the theatre of Wilson is not in fact notable or respectable”
  • It should say: “The music of Stockhausen, like the theatre of Wilson, is not, in effect susceptible to notation, or repeatable.”
  • In the same translation of the text where these examples are taken from, you can find more than one case of conversion from negation to affirmation – “Even the theatre of the absurd belongs to modernism (and [not] to postmodernism)”; “The ’post’ – of ’postmodern’ means (ne signifie pas) a movement of comeback, of flashback” — of neologisms due to ignorance of the original meaning — “Jacobismo” for “Jacobinismo; “anamorfis” for “anamorfosis” — big differences.
  • “The man doesn’t now have anything of the individual written in the history or historical which regulates all the problems”, where what is missing is after the word “or”, and in place of the word “historical”, the phrase: “historicised by a radical scenic treatment, by a sociohistorical explanation” — all of them attributable to mistakes if they don’t repeat themselves in other documents carrying the same signature (for example, “From text to scene: a difficult labour” and other things published in Conjunto y Tablas, Havana).

Another chance oversight by Cuban television

Dear friends:

In today’s programme Midday on TV (Tuesday February 6), intended to celebrate the Camagüey Culture Conference which is taking place now, dedicated a segment, put together by the journalist Aimée A. Margoz, to presenting the principal cultural historical achievements of Camagüey, which started, as it should, with the Mirror of Patience, from which it went on to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and Carlos J. Finlay, but, in a fatal leap (maybe there was a blackout?) they omitted, and left within the category “and others”, ever mention of none other than the twentieth century Camagüeyan poet who is our National Poet, our greatest social communist poet, Nicolás Guillén — and what’s more founder-president of our Cuban Union of Writers and Artists until his death. Those of us who are still waiting for Camagüey to totally rid itself its prerevolutionary and Pavonist prejudices, in its local “Giordano-Atiénzar” form, and finally start to be proud of the novels and essays of the internationally celebrated emigré-mullato-gay Severo Sarduy, see ourselves kilometres away from that horizon, with this step backwards, which, even more inconceivably and impardonably, ends up with Nicolás Guillén, the great revolutionary poet of Cuba and the world, left outside the cultural historical record  of our city, province and nation.

With best wishes

Desiderio Navarro

6 February 2007

Desiderio Navarro’s reply to the message signed “Betty”

One of the most pathetic things for me these days has been seeing how people who have been silent and uncritical all their lives in the public sphere — in the assembly, on paper, by email — after carefully waiting a week or two to see “what happens to me” after my initial critical letter, and after my invitation to the debate on taboo topics, they join in the discussion only in order to ask me in a modest way, not to say this or that — always something they themselves have never done or said in the Cuban public sphere. I am not only talking about the political prostitutes who are now abroad, who never wrote hardly a controversial line about anything in Cuba in the “public media” (2001) or, decades earlier, “Literary criticism: also a moral question” (1981), and who never gained any reputation as a controversial person in any congress, assembly or debate they attended between the 70s and now, paying the resulting biographical and intellectual price.

You interpolate me in the following terms: “in the same way that you didn’t accept  Pavón on the TV, neither should you concede now to them choosing the quorum on your behalf.” You don’t have to be a semiotic genius to see how the tendentious ellipsis works in that sentence: who is the subject of the action of “choosing”? Who are the “them” that you don’t name? By not naming them you are creating what is known as an area of doubt which can be filled by the reader with subject like “the bureaucrats”, “the Power”, “the closed circle”, “the elite”, “the apparatus”, etc. depending on the individual person’s suspicions, experiences or expectations. Or, let’s say, a symmetrical variant, going off in the opposite direction, the much criticised “Mystery Syndrome”. No less a part of the Orwellian “newspeak” is the implication: the verb “to cede” has two very different meanings: transitive verb – “give”, “transfer, pass to another thing action or law” — and the other, as an intransitive verb — “give in”, “subject oneself to” (DRAE). The verb “to cede” in its transitive form is an action that the subject may carry out of his own accord and volition (like giving up a seat to a pregnant lady in the bus). Nevertheless, you use the verb in its intransitive form: “concede to”, that’s to say, to not offer much resistance to, to give in to the will of another, capitulate, not resist pressure, or force (like to give in to the threats of an aggressor), sneaking in the impression that there are newly unspecified pressures on the part of “them”.

Now, Betty, although I have not “conceded” that they “choose the quorum,” for me, at all times I have made it clear that I have ceded the right to” choose the quorum.” As I explained in messages widely disseminated by email, after having got the Che Guevara Room and quadrupled the capacity for the public, and having soon seen that those interested in attending exceeded even this capacity, I decided I had to assure the participation of Cuban writers, artists and intellectuals in general, but it turned out even the number of these interested in attended vastly exceeded the capacity, and that’s when I refused to play the role of omnipotent czar singlehandedly deciding who may enter and who may not, and I passed this responsibility — and this is explained again here, one more time, to the “them” of the message whom I informed them of my decision — to the numerous cultural institutions of Cuban writers, artists and intellecturals who are members or workers. It is therefore up to these organizations to question or not any decision of the bodies that they themselves have chosen in the institutions of which they themselves have decided to join voluntarily, including the criteria for making those decisions. What, even so, I did do was insist that they do not allow the diversion of invitations in favour of secretaries or officials; so as not to leave off the lists important cultural figures, simply because they don’t have important positions in UNEAC or elsewhere, and they were taken into account, especially the critics and researchers of the cultural sector, which is the natural and usual public for Criterios, cultural theory center/publisher. I am sure that if I had not done so, indignant letters would now be raining down upon me, not for having made supposed “concessions,” but for having acted in the same autocratic and undemocratic way that I have criticized in such and such institutions or agencies and which you also seem opposed to.

The insinuation, or rather the accusation in advance that the audience will receive “an edited version (as has always happened) of reality” is more than offensive, in the case of Criterios, and I won’t waste time in answering it, because to any honest intellectual, Cuban or foreigner, who knows the work of Desiderio Navarro and Criterios for 35 years, it will be disgusting and unacceptable. Not to mention how offensive it will be to the speakers themselves. In any case, you also — though you haven’t requested them as have, already, more than four hundred people — will receive the texts of the lectures, if only so you can scrutinize them looking for some sloppy trail of an eraser and editorial scissors.

Desiderio Navarro

Translated by GH

28 January 2007

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

What is happening now is something similar and thousands of people, for the “modest” price of ten convertible pesos, are enjoying “alternative broadcasts”, watching different news programs and forgetting all the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Those programs, it’s true, for the most part, are dreadful, in terribly bad taste: as Guevara correctly puts it, they are the “glorification of vulgarity, mimicking the worst of the programs put out by the Empire”.

What’s strange in all this is not “the foreign channels”, as they’re called, what’s worse and more worrying is that people are willing to pay the equivalent of an average monthly salary to watch such productions. Why doesn’t anybody ask themselves what happened in all of those years of “wholesale” culture?

Why, after all that genuine effort which the country made to elevate the cultural level of the people, what they want is to watch the worst television from the United States? (and, by the way, the best programs offered in our television are also from that country, like the Discovery Channel and National Geographic documentaries, just to give two examples).

Guevara continues:

The highest authorities in our executive, such as the Ministry of Culture and the Party, have been aware, from the start, of my indignant rejection, which I have expressed directly, as it is my business to do, from the very start, in relation to the repeated mistreatment to which the Cuban intellectuals have been subject and, in practice, the intelligence which the Revolution has awoken, making it part of our education, so that it may be, and has started to be, the most important asset in our society in this epoch, the first century in which knowledge becomes the most important spiritual, economic and social area of wealth.

What is “the repeated mistreatment to which the Cuban intellectuals have been subjectthat Guevara talks about? The presence of the “ash-grey-looking trio” or “the belligerent, usurping ignorance” of the television functionaries? It isn’t clear. Guevara assures us that he has rejected it with indignation, I don’t doubt it, although we don’t know where or when he did it.

Finally, he ends up with a very serious accusation:

What has happened now is not just an affront to the Cuban intelligencia, to our culture in its artistic expression, it has been – it is – a trap laid for Fidel and Raúl by mediocrity and belligerent ignorance; a game played by interests determined to confuse and divide.

A trap for Fidel and Raul? A game played by interests determined to confuse and divide? The trap is treason and in our country that is a capital offence, with the aggravating factor that now, the Comandante can’t even defend himself. The people who run the television have been named by the “highest executive”, as the mass media are a very powerful weapon for the transmission of ideology, among many other things. So, those people who run those media want to confuse and divide? Is Guevara talking about some kind of conspiracy, is there some kind of “micro fracción” [a sector of the left in 1960’s Cuba regarded as a threat by Castro] which has infiltrated our TV channels?

Although confused, that doesn’t stop Guevara’s accusations from being very serious – he energetically supports the “Declaración del Secretariado de la UNEAC”, a document most people consider inadequate, stupid and nothing special. Fortunately, the debate carries on. Let’s hope that all the injustice, abuse of power and dogmas are reversible, for the good of our culture and all of us.

María de las Mercedes Santiesteban

Havana, January 22, 2007

Translated by GH

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

Lic. Isbel Díaz Torres

Writer, member of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz

Wednesday, January 31, 2007.

CONFERENCE FOR THE UNDER-40S

OK, as you must know by now, there has been a Conference for the youngsters … or conferences … or, the workshop “The Cultural Policy of the Revolution”, as it was put on the invitations distributed by the Centro Teórico-Cultural Criterios and the Asociación Hermanos Saíz.It took place last Friday (February 23rd) at 2 pm in the ISA. [University of Arts of Cuba]

Who was invited? Well, although I don’t have the figures, there were plenty of people there, the great majority youngsters. Intellectuals from every branch of the arts, researchers, writers, from the AHS (higher-ups and ordinary members), students from the University, and creative people from many provinces of the country. Perhaps this time too they didn’t achieve an ideal auditorium, in order to generate a real debate, but I think we can agree that that’s a really difficult task. But, as Alain Ortiz said,  ”the significance of the meeting lay in its multigenerational representation”.

I have conflicting impressions of this. On one side I feel satisfaction at having been a part of this debate, at having had the opportunity to speak freely, like many other young people there, and at having discussed topics which cannot be put off regarding our culture and politics. As has happened more than once, it is gratifying to feel that Abel listens to us and takes us into account. But, on the other hand, I also feel, as do some of my friends right now, that there is no confidence in any immediate solution to many of the questions which were put, and that, at the end of the day, that is what really matters. The tone of excusing the situation on the part of  Iroel Sánchez (Director of the Cuban Book Institute) and at certain times of Abel himself was somewhat discouraging. We young people are in a hurry, that’s for sure. Many of the things we are asking for we should have had yesterday, and without waiting in hope that perhaps they will give it to us tomorrow.

Nevertheless, I want to be optimistic, “miracles are slow in arriving” as Silvio says, but we can see the lights on the horizon. This process which has been unleashed is irreversible, in my judgement, and I feel that the Revolution is plagued by rich contradictions, which will become more marked if we are successful in taking advantage of them. I am not talking about opportunism, but about not leaving those issues we are concerned about locked away in the filing cabinet and insisting that they are addressed and resolved. I feel that much of what we are now suffering is truly due to the fact that the injuries were not healed at the time they were inflicted. It’s like trying to conceal a piece of meat under the mattress: the putrefaction and bad smell will come out in time. That time is now. Tools such as the web and emails are in our favor, silence is impossible.

Up to this moment I haven’t noticed that this workshop has had any impact; neither in the national press, nor in emails. That worries me a lot, because I think it was a profitable debate, some ground was gained. Are we only interested in obtaining an emotional release by complaining about our misfortune, or do we want to really structure this debate? It is essential that we are fully aware of what we are doing. I am not talking about a plan of action, or anything like that; we all have our own ideas and important differences. But the desire to renew things, to be truly revolutionary, must not be lost after a short period of high spirits, but it should become part of our daily lives.

For the moment, here I  publish my words in the “meeting with the young people”. The text was short, in accordance with the moderator’s request to not go over three minutes, but “I have said what I wanted to on time and with a smile”, and, above all, very honestly, which is the important thing.

Instituto Superior de Arte, Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Hello everybody.

I have an insistent thought over and over in my mind, which started when this avalanche of emails and statements first invaded the Cuban intellectual world. The question is: Will all of this make any practical sense?

What is a Cultural Policy? Does a “Cultural Policy” decide which works are aesthetically worthy, and which aren’t? Will it help me to understand whether rock is better than timba [a style of Cuban dance music], whether performance is better than landscape painting, if our own writers are better than foreign ones, if reggaeton is erotic or pornographic? Is a “Cultural Policy” something which helps black people? Gays? Provincial artists?Is that what it is? Is it something you write into the Constitution of the Republic, or put in decrees, or which you download as “guidance from higher organisations” in meetings of the Party or the UJC? [Young Communist League]. Does a “Cultural Policy” tell you what is revolutionary and what is counter-revolutionary?

In my opinion, the Cuban Cultural Policy, so tied up with the spheres of power, and very often more than tied up, subordinated to the apparatus of state, fortunately has not been immovable, but has moved in parallel with the development of this nation. Many times it has remained at the mercy of orders remote from the culture itself: international situations, “defining moments”, hare-brained ideas, which, in the mind of some executive committee become transformed into laws, etc. There have been moments of greater or lesser permissiveness, sometimes of tolerance and, why not?, also of real understanding. But is that what we really need now: to be grateful for the arrival of a moment of greater tolerance? To sing a Requiem to Social Realism and a Hallelujah to postmodernism? I think that would be a frivolous attitude on our part.

Since I was a kid, I have been taught that true transformations, or at least the most necessary ones, are those which spring from the roots of evil things. Later on I learned for myself how difficult they are, since they presuppose, above all, identifying the evils; which requires a strong dose of wisdom, detachment and love. But who wants easy tasks? We need true transformations and for that we have to “think Revolution”. This doesn’t just have to do with the world of the arts or the intellect, but all of society, all the country, of the Revolution.

Cuban society is a society of fear, as well as other more comforting descriptions which could be applied. It’s possible that a similar name could be applied to other societies right now, where forces which are superior and invisible determine the destinies of their inhabitants, which might be a sign of the times, but at the end of the day we are responsible for our society, for our Revolution. I don’t have the theoretical tools in order to demonstrate that fear has been established in our country, but names such as “Pavonato”, “Five Grey Years”, “Secrecy”, “Mystery Syndrome”, will give you an idea of what I am talking about. A process as sad as this for this nation’s soul cannot be shaken off that easily; the bruises they were showing following my message “Conference for the over-40s” showed me how far we still are from having left the disastrous influences of fear. The censors are there, they exist, they occupy positions from where they can harm us. When will they be recognised as counter-revolutionaries? When will we have a television which reflects our society with its contradictions, instead of investing time and money in inane slots for self-glorification. When will we have daring and inquisitive journalists? Why does nobody over there on the outside know we are here saying these things?

The cultural policy we need is one which encourages the exercise of criticism wherever it comes from; one that, from a position which is ecumenical and non-paternalistic, embraces creative activity; one that does not have “The Institution” acting as its headquarters, even when “The Institution” supports the creator, but that its guiding light is in the cultural activity itself; one that teaches us how to converse.

We need both old and new (but distinct) streams. We cannot give ourselves the luxury of letting names like Gramsci, Trotsky, Varela (to mention a few) be only known in intellectual circles and totally alien to Cuban knowledge  and practice.On the other hand, we young people cannot continue waiting for others to design spaces for free expression, for criticism, the power to generate these spaces  and multiply them lies in our own hands.

GIFTS (The right human time, 1962 Herberto Padilla)

(…) And nevertheless, you had things to say:
dreams, desires, journeys, agonizing resolutions;
other voices (or, another voice) did not distort
your great love nor your true angers.

Isbel Díaz Torres

Translated by GH

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31 January 2007