Heberto Padilla’s Public Confession, 5 April 1971, A Transcript

Heberto Padilla with his wife Belkiz Cuza Malé in Cuba in 1973. Photo: http://laparadadelosmangos.blogspot.com/

Note: This translation was prepared by TranslatingCuba.com

Background on Heberto Padilla abounds on-line. His obituary in the New York Times refers to the document translated here:

In April 1971 Mr. Padilla was released after a month of brutal interrogation during which he was forced to make a humiliating 4,000-word public confession.

This document was released by Norberto Fuentes on his blog, earlier this month, apparently the first time it has been made public.


Havana, April 26 [1971] (PL). The poet Heberto Padilla, recently detained for his counterrevolutionary activities, has addressed a letter to the Revolutionary Government in which he renounces these activities and asks that he be given the opportunity in a public appearance to explain his conduct.

Below is the text of the document.

To the Revolutionary Government:

I have meditated deeply on the decision to write this letter. It is not dictated by the fear of the inevitable and just consequences of my embarrassing attitudes, well known and demonstrated far beyond what I myself could have imagined. I am moved by a sincere desire to rectify, to make up for the damage I have caused the Revolution and to make up to myself spiritually. I can avoid that others stupidly lose their way.

But I anxiously desire to be believed and that this not be seen as cowardice, although I feel myself to be cowardly in my own acts. Morally, I would feel worse if this were not so and I am confident that the following analysis will demonstrate the frankness and sincerity of my words.

For many days I fought with myself over the decision to tell the whole truth. I did not want my truth to be that which it truly is. I preferred my disguise, my appearance, my justifications, my evasions. I had gotten used to living a deceitful and cunning game. I didn’t dare to confess how ignoble, how unjust, how degrading my position was. I truly lacked the courage to do it, but in the end I managed to pull myself together and to set out with absolute harshness the true motives of my conduct, the falsity of my critical displays and my own life in the Revolution.

I have acted, I have assumed positions, I have developed certain activities against our Revolution. But my literary vanity, my intellectual and political conceit, have much to do with this.

Under the disguise of a rebel writer in a socialist society, I have hidden opposition to the Revolution. Behind the displays of a critical poet showing off his morbid irony, the only thing I was really seeking was to express my counterrevolutionary hostility. To Cubans and foreigners, I unjustly accused the Revolution of the worst things.

I defamed each one of the initiatives of the Revolution to Cubans and to foreigners. I tried to appear to be an intellectual expert on problems about which I had no information, things I knew absolutely nothing about, and in this way I came to commit grave faults against the morals of the true intellectual and, what it worse, against the revolution itself.

My return from Europe in 1966 was marked by resentment. Months after arriving in Cuba the first thing I did was take advantage of an opportunity offered to me by the literary supplement el Caimán Barbudo [the Bearded Caiman],with regards to the appearance of Lisandro Otero’s novel, “Pasion de Urbino” to unjustly attack a friend of many years as was Lisandro. To defend a declared traitor, a CIA agent, like Guillermo Cabrera Infante, to attack the Writers Union, because it didn’t share my position, the Minister of Foreign Relations for having dispensed with the services of a declared counterrevolutionary such as Cabrera Infante, and to also attack a State Security comrade who had informed on his enemy activities.

I said all this with the greatest cunning, but with the desire to create a controversial environment that would favor my name, that would give me an opportunity to open a political debate where the only “brave one” was Heberto Padilla and the rest were a bunch of reluctant and cowardly officials. If my first note was concise in its venom and provocation, the last one I wrote, and that was published in el Caimán Barbudo, had pretensions of an allegation against the politics of the Revolution, and made me into an incredible prosecutor, as the magazine Verde Olive (Olive Green) later described me. I who possess no revolutionary merit at all, who have only benefitted from a revolution that has allowed me to travel, lead its businesses, officially represent one of its Ministries in different European countries. I, who thanks to the Revolution have published my literary work in Cuba, who from the beginning was recognized by our critics as a young talent of our letters. I, who have every reason to be thankful and proud, the first time I returned to Cuba I was defending a traitor and defamer of the Revolution. I use the verb defame because it exactly defines my own attitude. The infamous article responding to el Caiman contained all my initial petulance and most clearly my counterrevolutionary activity. That I tried to write that response, if not to distinguish myself, to stand out, to give the impression of a “revolutionary writer” is to rebel against an intolerable situation of illegality that allowed another “revolutionary writer” like Cabrera Infante to get off the plane that brought him back from his position as Cultural Attache in Brussels, a position he held for three years and that allowed him to establish ties with the imperialist enemies of our Revolution? What interested me was to call attention to myself, to benefit from the scandal. I wanted to be the only writer in Cuba with a political mentality, the only writer capable of confronting the revolutionary process and imposing his ideas. I hypocritically and derogatorily repeated the old theory that politics is too serious to be left to the politicians.

I, who had not earned any credit either before or after the Revolution, wanted credit and sought it by a path that could only lead to counterrevolution. And so I was also distancing myself from my old friends. If before they had been Lisandro Otero, Roberto Fernádez Retamar, Ambrosio Fornet or Edmundo Desnoes — to name just a few — now they were the foreign visitors who sought me out and who encouraged even more my powerful vanity. What were these foreign journalists looking for? These sociologists, these pseudo poets? Why were they interested? Because of the greatness of the Revolution? Because of its extraordinary work? Because of the admirable strength of its people? No. They were interested in the disaffected Heberto Padilla, in his marginal resentment, in the dissident intellectual, in the counterrevolutionary — to put it in a few words. These foreigners, who later have gone on record in writing about their counterrevolutionary positions, covering me with praise, publishing my photographs, interviews, adorable profiles. For them I was the nonconformist revolutionary, the rebel poet. Clearly they knew their game perfectly and I benefitted from that game. My name was in circulation. I was very conscience of it.

So, for some time, I maintained an astute duplicity. On the one hand making declarations where I reaffirmed an indisputable militancy for the Revolution, and on the other where I never let an opportunity go by to spew my venom against it. It was an almost demented activity but it was bearing fruit. My disaffection was feeding all this.

A French-Polish journalist, K.S. Karol, proposed an analysis of the Cuban political reality. I talked to him insidiously about all aspects of the Revolution, judgements that of course were those he wanted to hear, I interviewed with professor René Dumont as well. The old counterrevolutionary agronomist happily collected my critique of the Writers Union. I defamed our Institution as much as I could, I also told him that writers didn’t count in Cuba, that they’re nobodies, that [the magazine] Verde Olivo had attacked me unjustly and always with police arguments. And old Dumont immediately published my resentment. The same with Karol, unquestionably CIA agents, writing libels against our Revolution in both articles — Heberto Padilla is one of the few revolutionary and sympathetic people.

I had numerous conversations with the German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzenberger — who later wrote a long essay against our Party — that could be a compendium of my constantly acrid and aggressive thinking against the Revolution. All my supposed “analysis” presented a defeatist image of the Cuban revolutionary process. All of it predicted its failure. They were coldly negative, objective, counterrevolutionary analyses. From these longer conversations arose an unjust essay, with bad intentions, from the German Enzenberger. And I was interested in his personal friendship because there was an influential editor who could disseminate my work in his country — as he did. I cultivated his friendship and must declare that I contributed to deforming even more his vision of our Revolution, which was never very enthusiastic.

Meanwhile, my egocentrism was being fed hand over fist. The London BBC did a long interview with me in color for a special program dedicated to Education and Culture in Cuba. A station from Canada asked me for new interviews. My photo appeared in the book of the American journalist Lee Lockwood, adopting a pose that corresponded to the caption the book author added: Poet and political enfant terrible. I was quoted in articles about Cuba as an intransigent and rebel poet. And I know that each blow I launched against any aspect of the Revolution increased my popularity among journalists and writers, so-called liberals or democrats who worried more about the intellectual conflict than about the imperialist bombs and Vietnam.

As my vanity knew no limits, I brought my politically disaffected positions where I never should have brought them: to poetry. I was convinced that a poem that incorporated a supposed critique of the Revolution would appeal to certain international interests: The areas of skepticism and hatred for Revolutions. And so it was that I wrote insidious and provocative poems that under the skillful appearance of anguish over the problems and demands of history, did not express anything other than the temperament of a disbeliever, a cynic, a versifier trapped by his own moral and intellectual limitations. I refer, of course, to Fuera del Juego [Out of the Game] which won the National Poetry Prize from the Writers and Artists Union [UNEAC] in 1968. And I mention it because this book marks the culmination of my political tactics, the moment in which my vanity reached its highest point. The moment when I believed myself a conqueror, in which I believed I had obtained a decisive victory against the Revolution. I thought I had placed myself definitively on the two most important planes of Cuban life: the intellectual and the political. On the intellectual because a jury composed of first class poets and essayists had unanimously awarded me the National Poetry Prize, and on the political because this prize supported my positions. It didn’t matter that the Executive Board of UNEAC attached a long critique. What matters is that the book had been published and that alongside the UNEAC attack appeared a passionate defense from the five members of the Jury, and in particular the vote of the British critic J.M. Cohen, who stated that my book “would have won the prize in any country in the western world.”

In his geographic and political specification alone, “The Western World,” Cohen was expressing a great truth. Only in the western capitalist world, or in juries marked by its influence, without training in revolutionary theory, could Fuera del Juego win a prize of a country in Revolution and much less one from the Writers Union which is supposed to be the most revolutionary of all prizes. I remember that at a certain point I came to be frightened by the negative resonance that book was having, and before it appeared the Book Institute tried to modify some lines but such changes were not permitted. The Revolution did not want to reconcile with me. I had the obligation to assume all the responsibility myself.

Abroad, the Cuban scandal produced a fuss typical of bourgeois intellectuals. “The Padilla case” filled the magazines. Paris, London, the United States, Italy, the Scandinavian countries reproduced my poems and opened debates about freedom in Socialism. In France — where the culture had an extraordinary dynamism and where they tried to attach scandal to any work as a way to generate interest among buyers — the publisher De Seuil translated my fifty-some poems in less than a month and working flat out launched the book with an insidious band saying “One can be a poet in Cuba,” and presented me as a rebel, as a poet of those classified as controversial, that is intransigent challengers, rebels.

I continued to benefit from the scandal. French culture acclaimed me twice: they translated me into French and they praised me. My intellectual and political success was assured.

As one of my purposes was to get the attention of our leaders and demonstrate to them that I was a writer acclaimed abroad whom they had to consult and pay attention to, I began to feel greatly spiteful as the months passed and they didn’t pay any attention to me.

That was why, after a year of fruitless waiting for them to call me and give me a position appropriate to what I supposed was my intellectual range, I decided to write a brief letter to the Prime Minister, Commander Fidel Castro, explaining to him that I was unemployed and needed work. Almost immediately I received a reply from the Prime Minister through the Rector of the University of Havana, agreeing to my request for a job, which consisted of: preliminary analysis of my aptitudes and desires in translating work for the University itself, from my knowledge of languages.

In fact my request received respectful and rapid treatment. But I was, at bottom, so infatuated, resentful and blind that I considered it as a proof that my intellectual value and my foreign prestige was recognized and even feared by the Revolution and that from now on I could enjoy complete immunity to rant and rave against everything that occurred to me, to make fun of whatever I wanted, to spew venom all over the place without fear, to meet with other disaffected intellectuals, especially foreigners, and give free rein to our sick and counterrevolutionary spirits, to undertake the constant work, customary of conspiracies against all the initiatives of the revolution, accusing it unjustly and constantly defaming it.

On all questions I offered my opinions in bad faith. I still got a job at the University of Havana, acting as a permanent enemy of the Revolution.

I have been tremendously ungrateful, unjust to Fidel, and profoundly repenting that I have acted in this way I am impelled to rectify my cowardly and counterrevolutionary virulence.

Clearly my hostility and my constant counterrevolutionary activities forced me to watch myself with State Security, while on the other hand I was strengthening my relations with foreigners who came at my request, offering them all the information possible without concerning myself and yet suspecting they could be agents of imperialism. This was the case of a supposed German sociologist Kisler, whom I met days before he planned to leave Cuba, he approached me saying he was a friend of the poet Enzensberger and that he had asked that I see him. It was unusual, however, that he didn’t bring some letter from Enzensberger. I had two or three conversations with him. He was planning a thesis for his University about developing countries, he said. Very subtly, he asked me about the structure of power in Cuba and many other questions in the same style and I responded obsequiously. Through me he met other Cubans with positions similar to mine and I suppose he tried to get information in the same way. He took notes — of what I said — about all these things for a supposed postgraduate thesis and told me he wanted to return to Cuba the following year. Immediately I warned him not to let these notes fall into the hands of State Security.

Now, this young man, in apparent innocence, who talked all the time about Che, who went around with a recording of the interview of [General] Ovando [of the Bolivian Army] from when Che died, this young German who said (he told me passionately) that all the ideas of Ernest Bloch in his book “El principio esperanza” [The Principal of Hope] embodied the great example of Commander Ernesto Guevara, this person was nothing less than, as I came to know later, an agent of the enemy. And I, far from being on guard against him and against everyone of this type who visited us, what I did — moved as always by my counterrevolutionary spirit — was to alert him not to leave his notes in a visible place and to take measures and precautions. I could not commit acts more worthy of condemnation in my life. I confided in a surreptitious enemy and warned him against an organism of the Revolution, when I should have defended it against the innumerable enemies who accost us. I will never tire, as long as I live, of repenting of such unspeakable and shameful acts.

My name was already known abroad. I could become one of those writers who live in socialist countries and whose work is published clandestinely outside and who becomes a kind of authority that no state can touch.

I tried to consider myself among the untouchables also. My position had to be respected. The Union Quarterly published three of my poems and later the Gaceta de Cuba published an article in praise of Lezama. Meanwhile my work was being disseminated abroad. The propaganda launched by the unscrupulous French publisher had had a great effect. The controversy over Fuera del Juego occupied more than six pages of the Parisian weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Julio Cortázar took on what the newspaper called the defense. Cortázar tried to prevent, in some way, the campaign against Cuba from having more resonance and my being considered a martyr. But in essence he defended me. Neither traitor nor martyr, Cortázar said. And he recognized that my bitter and pessimistic poems were the product of a man caught between two eras, not the ideal man that revolutions desired, etc. Cortázar’s defense benefitted me extraordinarily. I could capitalize on it internally and externally. The controversy itself over the events increased the sales of my book. The publisher Du Seuil — with complete shrewdness — continued its propaganda building on the rebel writer. They wrote me two letters which I, astutely, did not answer.

In Argentina a publisher called Aditor also put out the book. They exploited the political scandal, but not the author — it was more a pretext to support a massive sale on the base, as always, of the political scandal, for me, of course what interested me was the spreading of my name.

I wanted to write a subtle novel that reflected my opinions against the Cuban Revolution. The anti-hero of the novel was also deriding the revolutionary work. It is inconceivable to me that I could have thought this sick tome — where I put all my bitterness — could have any intellectual or human value. Not only was it politically negative and convoluted, not only did it reflect my ideological and counterrevolutionary vacillations, but it also expressed a profound disenchantment with life, in the hope and poetry of life. The man who wrote those pages was a man on the path of his own moral and physical destruction.

I pitched the idea of the novel to an English publisher — Deutchs — and they talked with José Agustín Goytisolo who communicated immediately with Barral, the Spanish publisher. Covering the same theme, the negative aspects of my book of poems, I was convinced that the dissemination would be very wide, because it would be published under my name, which, internationally, was a controversial name.

I received several requests from Barral, over more than a year ago, to send him the novel.

I wrote a letter to Cortázar where I explained I was trying to send it to him with some trusted traveler among those who were going to be on the jury that year for the Casa de las Americas. But it wasn’t finished. I only had some chapters and I told him in my letter that it wasn’t an opportune time. My principal interest was to keep the door open to the Spanish publisher and have the publication of the novel coincide with that of my poems in other languages. My wish was, of course, that the novel would be published everywhere to obtain international notoriety and political importance. I was looking to assert my personality abroad, to make myself widely known and to definitively make myself an intellectual who would have political influence in Cuba.

Only the vanity and petulance of thinking myself worthy of all these honors could make me conceive a plan like this, as always, tied to foreign countries, to realize my prestige through magazines, publishers and with the foreign public. And among my most unspeakable mistakes was precisely this: thinking I could — as a Cuban — live a double life: on one side vegetate as a parasite in the shadow of the Revolution, and on the other cultivate my literary popularity abroad at the cost of the Revolution and helping its enemies.

Only a man without the least hint of the ethics of a revolutionary combatant could feel satisfaction with a situation like this, especially if this man has children in the fatherland, no longer so young, and they could come to wonder some day what kind of strange father do they have who lives at the margin, indifferent to his people.

The dazzling light from abroad, from the great capitals, from foreign cultures, from international popularity, the maneuvers to gain the attention of publishers, promising books that don’t exist — that haven’t even been finished — all this constitutes the base of my falseness and all my activities during the latest years.

I can refer to these gross errors with complete clarity, totally openly, because I could measure to what degree of deterioration I have come and with strength and vehemence I want to rectify all this.

This is and will always be an irreplaceable experience that has divided my life in two: that from before, and what I want to be today.

I pray the Revolutionary Government will offer me the occasion to carry this out.

If I desperately ask that they permit me this opportunity, it is from the profound conviction that I have that my experience can have value not only for me but far beyond my person, that my experience can be extraordinarily useful for other Cuban writers, because a great part of the vices of my character, a great part of the hateful activities that have characterized my lifestyle and social conduct, that I have maintained up until now, have been and I would say are, also those of a considerable number of our writers.

Many of them, as I did, and for motives more or less similar, in which literary vanity and the ridiculous search for international fame are the core, take advantage of relationships, defame the Revolution and consciously and unconsciously cooperate with some sly enemy wearing the mask of the intellectual who comes to Cuba looking for information in the name of the enemy to act against the Revolution.

I ask that I be permitted to explain these events publicly, to discuss and debate with those who are incurring or are going to incur such serious errors and errors even more serious than mine. I am sure that my personal experience in this, and my words will be unimpeachable and some good talents will be freed from the crude traps of the enemy and perhaps can come to be useful to the Revolutionary cause.


H. Padilla
Havana, 5 April 1971