The Period of the Silent Scandal / José Milián / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

For Antón de Milián

Many friends, and others who are not friends, have approached me, interested in my opinion about this debate on the parameters or simply, the fact that non-participation in it could be interpreted as indifference, apathy or in the worst of cases… cowardice. Those who really know me know that I do not suffer from any of these three evils. The reason is very simple: I have no mailbox. But I have kept abreast of what is happening because there are always good souls who have helped me receive messages in some way and because I have attended various meetings.

Now, to the point. I never thought that Pavón, despite his ideas, acted alone. The phenomenon is more complex. On this point it is very easy to think that we must look up, but I am also talking about that we must look to the sides, and at times down. I have documents signed by him, evidence that was based not only on the decisions of the Congress of Education… and Culture, but a Legal Advisor whose name I don’t want to remember and other representatives of institutions, in this case the Union and the Ministry of Labour. But we also relied on criteria coming from their own Theater Groups or it could be from their Work Councils. Advice that in some cases they reconsidered and joined the victims and others who, from the beginning, supported them. Those who emerged from the famous hearings held by the so-called Evaluation Commission, came out with a ticket in their hands, with ten days to appeal the sentence, if they didn’t agree with it, otherwise they had to present themselves and face the penalties of the law against Vagrancy. Could Pavón have created this judicial machinery alone? I will not mention, of course, the ordeal we had to go through.

The story is more or less known and this is not the appropriate framework in which to tell it. But when this man signed, with his own hand, on my expulsion decision, that: “…His works AGAIN JEHOVAH WITH THE STORY OF SODOM AND THE TAKING OF HAVANA BY THE ENGLISH allow his literature to be categorized as pornographic and obscene” …he is not alone. There, in that document, are other signatures. And in the process, other names. He had planned the conditions before acting. And he received support from people who thought like him. And in the realm of ideas I do not know if we bring something to this debate by questioning who felt the same and who no longer did. Because time has gone by.

There is only one idea in which Pavón and I completely agree: a better world is possible. But for him, or for them, that world is better without me, or without us, the parameterized. The superficiality and naiveté–to put it in some way–with which we were tried, cost us a lot. And I refer to certain words that Blas Roca told Fernando Sáenz Peña and Lazarus: “The parameterized are a living test of faith in the Revolution, that the wrong will be rectified, because if not, they would have given up already… and despite there not being a place in different instances, they still insist, for that they must have great faith.” And of course there’s the argument that we had it once and still have it. And for that faith we come back and are still here. But for this case to have been forgotten in the past–where it deserved to be– it should have been analyzed and corrected at that time. It should have been spoken about and judged.

This is not about vengeance, and much less about justice. It was and is about saving a project of social justice that was above us and even above Pavón, yet it was he who truly suffered from it. He and his allies were affecting the credibility of this project and with this massacre it was they who served, on a silver platter, the gossip to their enemies themselves.. For me, this was never El Quinquenio Gris, the Five Grey Years; for me this was always El Período del Escándalo Silencioso, The Period of the Silent Scandal. Playwrights and directors, actors and designers, etc. have existed within artistic education whether the professor dares to speak about them or not. Because of ignorance or fear of not knowing if they were among us. And it is precisely these young people who are now professionals that I am thinking about. What will happen to them? Will they be willing to not make the same mistakes?

Excuse the delay and perhaps the large extent of my words.

José Milián

February 9, 2007

Translated by: Dolores M. Goizueta

Watercolor of a Havana Autumn / Iván García

Right now, many Havana residents are sending up last minute prayers that the hurricane won’t hit the city. The hurricane season, June 1 to November 30 this year, has been gentle with Havana. Thank God.

The capital of all Cubans has an infrastructure of tears. The Fourth World. The ancient buildings in the old part of the city crumble under moderate intensity downpours.

Most are held up by a miracle of physics. Decades of lack of building maintenance has resulted in Havana suffering more than it should from any natural phenomenon.

Avenues and streets are overflowing from a persistent downpour. The sewers are clogged with vegetation, or don’t work at all and collapse in a few minutes. The exposed electrical wiring decomposes in the wind, with gusts exceeding 35 miles per hour.

‘Paula’, the latest tropical storm, insignificant in terms of strength, caused 48-hour blackouts in various locations around the city. The Havana seafront is in urgent need of repair. Winds from the north or bad weather cause severe flooding that affects residents in the areas of Vedado and Centro Habana.

For a habanero, the worst that can happen at this time is a late hurricane. Otherwise, it’s the best time of the year. There is not the usual stifling heat. The nights are cool, the mornings bright and full of possibilities, the sun bearable.

True, the skyrocketing number of beggars are crowding out and bothering passersby in the main streets, parks and squares. And public transportation is going from bad to worse.

In the fall there is a more active cultural and sporting life. Although theaters are few and most are damaged and lack air conditioning. Like the movies theaters. Of the 300 theaters in Havana in the ’80s, in 2010 only around 40 remain. Almost all are rickety, the seats broken, the ushers lack lights, the bathrooms are as dirty as can be. Still, the cinemas of the city are preparing to receive a flood of people when, in early December, the curtains rise on a new edition of the Latin American Film Festival.

Also in the fall baseball season begins. Without a doubt the greatest show there is in this country. There will be about 50. And the government and the relevant sports federation intend this year to be the highest quality in half a century. I doubt it. With a Pleiad of young talent taking to the road to the American and Latin American major leagues, the old Cerro Stadium, in a critical state, does not augur a high quality season.

La pelota, “The ball,” as Cubans call baseball, and movies are still within reach of everyone. The entrance to the cinema and stadium costs ten cents. Outside, five pesos (0.25 cents) buys a package of popcorn… so let’s entertain ourselves!

The worst part of attending any event for most people comes when it’s time to catch the bus to go home. The next day, when the excitement of the game or the film is over, routine returns: the lack of hard currency and the headache of trying to come up with two hot meals a day, or a snack for the kids to take to school. We Cubans are already used to that reality.

Despite fears of a sudden storm, the evident deterioration of the city, the legion of beggars and a government that has spent 50 years ago shouting from the rooftops that this was “a revolution of the meek and humble,” I recommend a visit to Havana in the fall. It’s the best there is.

November 5, 2010

Countdown to Freedom / Reinaldo Escobar

Last weekend I conducted an interview with Guillermo Fariñas, which can be read shortly in the journal Coexistence. Among the questions that might become old news by the time the conversation is published, is this one which I am putting here on my blog. I share Fariñas’ optimism and apprehensions on this subject, and consider it a topic of enormous importance, because the release from prison of the final opponent would mark a milestone on the path to a claim we have made so many times: Let differences be decriminalized!

Reinaldo Escobar: With only a few days left to comply with the government’s promise to release all the prisoners from the Black Spring, there are still 13 of them behind bars. They are those who have declared their intention not to leave the country. What is your point of view on this situation?

Guillermo Fariñas: With regards to the thirteen still in prison today, I would like to abuse your time and mention all of their names. They are: José Daniel Ferrer García, his brother Luis Enrique, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Librado Hilario García, Angel Moya Acosta, Diosdado González Marrero, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Guido Sigler Amaya, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Arnaldo Ramos Lausurí and Oscar Elías Gonzalez Biscet.

With regards to these people, all variables are possible, especially now that the European Union decided not to lift their Common Position with respect to Cuba which, from my point of view, was one of the government’s objectives for these releases. I’m going to risk telling you that I am hopeful they will be released from prison even though they do not want to leave the country. The Government is already aware that if they do not fulfill their promise, at least six of these thirteen will declare themselves on hunger strike as of November 10. That is, they will give the government 72-hours grace to comply with the offer, and if it is not met, they are going to take a stand along with some wives and other opponents.

I have the impression that the authorities are going to do everything possible to avoid an international scandal putting Cuba back in the public spotlight. I am hopeful, but I do not forget that the exercise of power, over more than fifty years, creates a sense of arrogance that at times makes those who want to exercise absolute power in this way lose track of reality.

November 5, 2010

Catastrophe / Claudia Cadelo

We were waiting for a ride on 23rd when Ernesto Morales’ cell phone rang. It was Yoani Sánchez, worried about him because he could have taken AeroCaribbean Flight No. 883. We were stunned for a few seconds and then Ernesto told me:

“I was going to travel on that plane.”

I felt helpless to express the horror of a plummeting airplane, the safest transport there is, according to statistics. The safest and yet one of the most brutal when it  breaks the rule. With no survivors, the Havana-Santiago flight has left a trail of horror in the Cuban sky.

List of the dead taken from Diario de Cuba

Cuban passengers:
1- Guillermo Pinero Barros, Cuba
2- Guillermo López López, Cuba
3- Mercedes Cruz Pérez, Cuba
4- Humberto Rodríguez López, Cuba
5- Humberto Espinosa Texidor, Cuba
6- Damaris Ocaña Robert, Cuba
7- Yolennis Díaz Delgado, Cuba
8- René Espinosa Mora, Cuba
9- Frank Román Valido, Cuba
10- Gladis Soublet Bravo, Cuba
11- Juan Mazorra Soublet, Cuba
12- José Arseo Valdés, Cuba
13- Isora Silva Hierrezuelo, Cuba
14- Olga de la Cruz de la Llera, Cuba
15- Rosa Calcedo Reyes, Cuba
16- Jorge Carballo Abreu, Cuba
17- Juan Manuel Pérez Salgado, Cuba
18- Carlos Prado Perera, Cuba
19- Ángel Prado Perera, Cuba
20- Aurora Pons Porrata, Cuba
21- Lourdes Figueroa Sangrong, Cuba
22- Rosmery Ochoa Gordon, Cuba
23- Carmen Miranda Martínez, Cuba
24- Maritza Alfonso Duarte, Cuba
25- Ricardo Junero Rodríguez, Cuba
26- Daineris Venero Acosta, Cuba
27- Andrea Gordon Figueroa, Cuba
28- Orlando Beirut Rodríguez, Cuba
29- Osmar Moreno Pérez, Cuba
30- Deisy Clemente Consuegra, Cuba
31- Leonor Ruiz Méndez, Cuba
32- José Ruiz Fernández, Cuba
33- Odalys Portales Silva, Cuba

Flight crew:
34- Ángel Villa Martínez, Cuba
35- Luis Lima Rodríguez, Cuba
36- Raciel Echevarría Lescano, Cuba
37- Martha María Torres Figueroa, Cuba
38- Fara Guillén Brito, Cuba
39- Juan Carlos Banderas Ferrer, Cuba
40- Andy César Galano, Cuba

Passengers of other nationalities:
41- Renata Enockl, Germany
42- Harald Niekaper Lars, Germany
43- Maria Pastores, Argentina
44- Alberto Croce, Argentina
45- Stella Croce, Argentina
46- Carlos Sánchez Marcelo, Argentina
47- Miriam Galucci de Sánchez, Argentina
48- Aruro González, Argentina
49- Silvia Ferrari, Argentina
50- Norma Peláez, Argentina
51- Virginio Viarengo, Argentina
52- Jacqueline Cunningham, Austria
53- Barbara Crossin, Austria
54- Manuel González Asencio, Spain
55- William Mangae Kambi, France
56- Hans Vanschuppen, Netherlands
57- Dirk Vandam, Netherlands
58- Walter Vanderberg, Netherlands
59- Rafaelle Pugliese, Italy
60- Yoko Umehara, Japan
61- Lorenzo Mendoza Cervantes, México
62- Daniel González Esquivel, México
63- Luis Pérez, México
64- Jesús Rangel Medina, México
65- Cynthia Pérez García, México
66- Mario Pérez Rulgines, México
67- Claudia García Castillo, México
68- Cándida Elchaer, Venezuela

November 5, 2010

Interview with Winnie Biscet, Courtesy of Punt de Vista / Oscar Elías Biscet

“They have tried to psychologically assassinate my father”

By Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall

Winnie Biscet is the only daughter of the political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet. During the last few days, she has been setting up a campaign to collect signatures for the release of her father. In this interview, she talks to us about her father’s career, about the conditions he has had to live under throughout the last 10 years of confinement, and about the unjust nature of his prison sentence. Strongly religious, Biscet’s daughter, who lives in the United States, is convinced that her father will be released from jail and will continue fighting, from the Island, to finally see a democratic Cuba, despite the lingering possibility that the regime could easily jail him once again.

How long has Óscar Elías Biscet been imprisoned? What were the reasons for his imprisonment?

My father was jailed because he was against the practice of abortions in Cuba. He was defending the human being, that being still in the stomach of a mother, the being which hasn’t even been born yet. That’s why he was condemned to three years in prison. Once he actually completed that three year sentence, he left jail, only to once again be imprisoned 36 days after, this time being sentenced to 25 years.

Did this occur in 2003?

Yes, during the Black Spring. They jailed him before the prisoners of the Group of the 75. In reality, he wasn’t exactly from that group. He was already jailed before that, though they did hold a trial for him together with the 75.

What interactions or communications has he had with his family during all this time?

Family members are allowed to visit him every two months. Those who are allowed are his brother, his father, his mother, his wife, and his kids. However, since I am an only child and I don’t live in Cuba, his cousins or his niece can visit him.

You left Cuba after this last imprisonment?

Yes. I left Cuba after he was sentenced to 25 years.

Have you been able to go back to visit him?

I was able to return in 2006 and I was able to see him twice.

What did he transmit to you during those last visits, and what has he communicated to you within the last couple of months?

My dad has always written letters to me which state that he is there for a cause, and that cause is human rights, rights for Cubans, for the right of that child which hasn’t even been born yet. He has always tried to explain to me how to be a better person, how to confront those people who don’t understand why he is in jail, and what is his purpose.

In the petition, your dad’s character is relayed as a symbol…

I think that my dad is a symbol because of all that he has done. He has been a firm patriot. He always has an answer, he thinks things through very well, each of his steps are calculated well. He is a person who has thoroughly studied himself, learning to control himself to not offend or hurt anyone. I believe that all the things my father has done has been in the form of a teacher, with others seeing him from a student’s perspective, wanting to do the same thing. He has been able to reach a position that many other people can’t, not because they are not qualified or dumb, but because each person has their own calling. And my father has done a lot of things that other people have not been able to. He is a person who defends life, he likes just causes, and defends things with all his heart and passion, down to the very last consequence. That’s why I think he is a symbol worth following.

Today, the European Union’s Common Position towards Cuba is up for debate. It was expected that those prisoners who have chosen not to leave Cuba were supposed to be released. Do you have hope that the regime will fulfill its promise?

Yes. I strongly believe in God, and I know that God will not let us down. I know that the only thing my dad has done has been to defend freedom in Cuba. He has never used a gun, he has never hurt anyone, he hasn’t offended anyone, and I think that when a person is just and sincere, then God will give him the power to succeed. And, like I’ve always said, my dad is a very Christian person, he trusts and has faith. And I know he will come out of jail, because God has taken note of all the good things he has done throughout his life, and like I say, when one is the son of God, he will never leave you alone. I have lots of faith that he will be released, that he will be home soon with his family, and that I will see him soon.

There were some rumors going around that this weekend various prisoners would be released. Has your dad been notified of such news?

I sincerely do not have an answer to that. What I can say is that his name is on the list of those who will be released. I don’t know if it will be today or in a month, but I am very sure that he will be released.

Once liberated from prison, and if he keeps up his political activities, do you think that the regime would be tolerant with him from now on?

No, I don’t believe that. I think he very well knows what awaits him. Ever since he was jailed ten years ago, he is very aware that he lives with the possibility of being jailed again and again, but like I say, when you have God in your heart, even if there is a president or anyone that wants to harm you, you will always make it through whatever awaits you. My dad is a very studious person, he is very strong, he has a very strong personality, and he thinks things through very well before acting. And I know that he knows what awaits him. But when God is in your heart, anything can be achieved. And he hasn’t harmed anyone, he hasn’t killed anyone, he simply wants a free Cuba. If the government doesn’t like that, well, I really don’t know what I can tell you. I just know that my dad has not harmed anyone and that the only thing we are demanding from the Cuban government is that they release him, because he is a Cuban just like the rest of us. He is a very dignified man. All that he says he says with much authority because he knows what he is talking about. In prison, he has been subjected to all sorts of tortures and absurdities on behalf of the government, simply for defending his brothers, his fellow Cubans.

Throughout these past ten years, what moment has been the most difficult for your father while in jail?

My father has been imprisoned for ten years, and if you ask me, every single second of that confinement must be difficult for him. He has not told me exactly what he has gone through, but being his daughter and because I am a strong believer in God, I have placed him in my heart and I can feel that he has suffered greatly at every moment. He has written some letters to me that can make anyone cry. He has seen lots of injustices in prison, people who have committed suicide for example, and that is very difficult. Once, he told me that they wanted to psychologically kill him. And it’s true. When someone is locked up in a punishment cell, that is what the intent is — to try to kill you mentally. My father knows this too well. I know that he has suffered throughout his life, but he is an honorable man who finds himself locked away because he is committed to the freedom of his country. Even before he has been in prison, he has still suffered, for they have tried many times to knock him down. But like I’ve told you, when you keep God in your heart, anything is possible, and no one can ever counter God — not Fidel, not the Revolution, no one.

You mentioned torture. What kind of tortures did your dad suffer?

For one, they have tried to drill absurd statements into his head, like foul words, or telling him that he is going crazy, that he will not be able to continue fighting, or that he is worth nothing. You know, those things damage people. Another thing they did was to strip from him his medical license. Imagine just how much he sacrificed to become someone in life, and then a person who is not even your relative or anything comes and snatches from him his title as a doctor. It’s horrible. He was a doctor who saved lives, who cared about his patients, and now they don’t let him exercise his profession. My dad has lived through some cruel things. Once, they punched him and he lost a tooth. Something like that is physical abuse, but can you imagine that he actually remained silent and took it in, that’s what it means to be a respectful and dignified person. He didn’t fire back with a punch because he respects his brothers. My dad knows when he is wrong or not when chatting with another person. And I think it’s absurd that a man be punched, to the point of loosing a tooth, just for thinking differently. Despite all these injustices which have landed upon him, he has not been violent.

Throughout these years, has his family faced obstacles in being able to see him in jail?

They have gone to jail to visit him. When I was in Cuba, though, sometimes they wouldn’t allow you to visit him for three to five months. I was very young, but I remember. It was frustrating because I had to go from Havana, where we used to live, all the way to Holguin. It was a 14 hour trip — a very difficult journey which would sometimes end with the guards refusing us to see him. It was very devastating for us, especially since I strongly wanted to see my dad, whom I love very much, and then they would just come out and flat out tell us that we couldn’t because he was being punished for having behaved badly. But we all know that in reality, he has never misbehaved. He has always respected people. The truth is that the things he does, they do not approve of. And when you’re against a government, then many harsh things tumble down after you.

Besides abortion, your father had some other ides which didn’t sit too well with the government…

He wanted his country to be free and democratic, like the United States. He strongly believed that if you wanted to go out and say “Down with Fidel”, then that was your right you wouldn’t suffer any repercussions for expressing your ideas. Also, if you wanted to build something, then you should be able to go ahead and do it. He considered the system to be very unjust, and that’s why he decided to fight for his country.

Who is helping you with this campaign and what is planned at the moment?

The campaign is organized by former political prisoners who suffered sentences of up to 28 years. They are amazing people who have decided to help with my campaign to free my father. The objective is the absolute freedom of Oscar Elias Biscet. I ask of everyone who reads this interview to please visit the blog ( and sign the petition. It’s the only help we can ask for Oscar Elias Biscet, who only wanted freedom for himself and for the rest of Cuba. We want a free Cuba, with freedom of expression, of being able to do whatever we want to do without having any conflicting pressures. Please help us free my father.

See the original interview on the blog Punt de Vista, here.

October 28, 2010

Censorship: Are You There? (1) / Carlos Espinosa / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

During the time in which I lived in Madrid, a friend of mine from the Island came to visit. Unable to resist his curiosity, he immediately began to pry into my bookshelves (a habit I have to confess, I do not like). When he came across a shelf lined with cassettes, he smirked and in a teasing way, expressed how surprised he was to see that I owned tapes by artists such as Raphael, Los Brincos, Fórmula V, Massiel, Cristina y los Stops, Charles Aznavour, and Los Bravos… I simply explained to him that this music formed an essential part of my sentimental education during my years as a middle school, and later high school student.

Back then, the only way to be able to hear those songs in Cuba, or at least in the country village where I lived, was the radio. Tape recorders and stereos were things one wouldn’t even dare to dream of; not to mention the additional problem of figuring out a way to find cassettes and tapes. I remember that one of my friends with whom I would go out had a sister in Havana who was married to a Greek sailor. Thanks to that, we would have access to a cassette player he would bring to the parties we organized sometimes. It was such a heavy and cumbersome machine that it was like carrying a suitcase. It was like an antique that, nowadays, one would only see in thrift stores, those second-hand stores that are so common in the United States.

Many years later, when I first had the opportunity to buy the cassettes (compact discs still took time to appear) with those old songs, I wanted to make a belated gift to the boy I once was, a gift that he was never able to have. Listening to them again, off the island, must have been for me a way to surrender myself to the intoxication of nostalgia (“This bread tastes like a memory,” says a verse by Humberto Saba). But it also provided me with some findings that I did not expect. I pride myself on having an excellent memory, and was able to sing along as the song played on the stereo. In some cases, however, there were verses that I had not heard before. In “Ding, dong, the things of love,” one of the many songs that the Argentine Leonardo Favio popularized in Latin America, was this: “She is fragile, tender and sweet, / I look to find it. / I think and I smile, / for me that God exists.” I noticed something similar in the song, “When you return” (Cuando Vuelvas) by the Spaniards Mitos. In the version that we got to know through the radio stations in the Island, the following did not appear: “At night I pray / I pray to the Lord for your love. / But I feel afraid / afraid that I will lose you.”

Both are examples of censorship; that cousin of the medieval inquisition that is related to power, repression, and manipulation. In both cases, the scissors of the censors were directed against religious ideas, one of Castro’s black beasts during the decade of the sixties and part of the seventies. In Cuba, it was this fact that prompted the popularization of all of Juan y Junior’s songs except for one: En San Juan (In San Juan). The lyrics can’t be more candid and ingenious, for one must not forget that it was also written under an inflexible monitoring of another dictatorial regime. But in the anticlerical crusade unleashed in the new Cuba, things like this were unacceptable: The porch in the church of San Juan / and the saint made of wood in front of you / became my friends and were my witnesses / the day that our love was born. / The saint gave a good-natured smile / and I looked at you a little embarrassed / saying a few / simple and loving things. / One day we wanted to get married / in San Juan.”

From these operations of amputation of inconvenient content El Corazon Contento (Happy Heart), by the Argentinian Palito Ortega, was able to escape. Since we had heard a different version of this song by Spaniard Marisol, we were able to listen to and hum the following: “and I pray to God that I never lose you.” It would have been a bit complicated to explain to Comrade Antonio Gades, the then husband of the singer, why Cubans were censored from such an ideologically innocuous phrase, while in Franco’s Spain, however, Joan Manuel Serrat could address issues of social commentary in his songs and record an entire album with the poems of Miguel Hernández, who died in jail, and why Fernando Fernan Gomez and Massiel were allowed to present a show with songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Those are only a few examples that illustrate the censorship that was applied in music. To these, I would like to add one more: in the Island’s radio stations, Luis Aguile’s song, Cuando Sali de Cuba (When I Left Cuba) was banned, for the reason that, although it is not explicitly stated, one can infer that the person speaking must have left his/her country for very serious reasons: “When I left Cuba / I left my life, I left my love. / When I left Cuba / I left my heart buried.” But so far, I have referred to censorship of specific lyrics and songs. On other occasions, the attack of the guardian dogs had as a target singers and bands. For example, at one point, they ceased to schedule the recordings of Raphael, Julio Iglesias, Santana, and Jose Feliciano, among others. About the reasons why the latter was banned, I remember hearing this explanation: the singer had publicly declared that he would rather be blind in Puerto Rico than to be able to see, if the price for it was having to live in Cuba. I am convinced that the anecdote is apocryphal, but I do not deny that it is very credible. More so in the case of Feliciano than the other artists, what we talked about was no more than pure speculation, gossip. As Roberto Madrigal writes in his novel Frozen Zone, the list of the censored is only known through common knowledge, never in written form, “because good censorship is like that, it does not explain its purposes so that uncertainty is added to terror.”

But before proceeding, I think it is appropriate to talk in general about this crime, which, usually, is justified by invoking the notion of the collective good. The term ‘censorship’ comes from the Latin word, ‘censure,’ which means estimate, assess, evaluate. How did this word acquire such a different meaning? This can be explained if one remembers that in ancient Rome, the censor and the responsibility of the person in charge of the census of people were closely related. The censors were officers appointed to chair the census, i.e. the registration of citizens, in order to determine the duties which they were entitled to in the community. The task of what we now call the ‘surveyor’ was to take control of the inhabitants; of the censor, classify and control products withdrawn from the minds of people (books, ideas). Both census and censorship, were (are) forms of surveillance. And in the case of the second, it represents a mechanism used to impose prohibitions or restrictions on persons or ideas that can upset the established order.

Absolute impunity to censor

On more than one occasion, under despotic regimes, art and literature have been made to grow. But as has often been noted by George Orwell, the despotism of the past was not as rigorous as the totalitarianism that several countries suffered from in the twentieth century. This is because in the former, the repressive system had always been inefficient, and the classes that ran the control and regulation devices were usually corrupt, apathetic and even kind of liberal. Nothing like the high level of perversion and effectiveness with which the censorship institutions of the totalitarian regimes operated, in particular, the Communists. One simple fact can give one an idea about the proportions that this machinery was able to reach: in the former Soviet Union, 70 thousand bureaucrats oversaw the activities of 7,000 writers. That is, each author was assigned ten editors.

In these countries, censorship also enjoyed complete impunity. As the restrictive and prescriptive controls were in the hands of the state, the intervention of the censors did not need to be justified or declared since it was part of the routine and operational practice. The state also owned publishing houses, art galleries, museums, newspapers and magazines, television channels, radio stations, theaters, printing presses, and movie studios. This ensured, for example, that if the manuscript of a book was disapproved, its publication was impossible. In this regard, it should be noted that only the act of writing or creating a work that, for some reason (no matter whether the motive was political or artistic, as the aesthetic and ideology were not separated), did not please the Commissioners, it was considered an offense for which one could be convicted or sentenced.

In 1974, the Cuban writer and dramatist René Ariza (Havana, 1940-California, 1994) was sentenced to eight years in prison, of which he served five. Stories, plays and his unpublished poems were discovered by police in the luggage of a Spanish boy, and that was enough to bring him to court for “writing enemy propaganda.” And I highlight this detail: only for writing it. That is, in his case, like that of other authors who were sentenced to prison or expelled from the university (Carlos Victoria, Rafael E. Saumell, Manuel Ballagas, Leandro Eduardo Campa, Esteban Luis Cardenas, Daniel Fernandez, are some names that come to mind), the penalty was based not on the offense, but on the intention. The punishment was applied, therefore, a priori, before the works could cause the damage alleged against them.

I keep a copy of the Chancellor’s Resolution 89/73, which is stamped in the end with the signature of Hermes Herrera Hernández, then rector of the University of Havana. It relates to disciplinary proceedings of Iglesias Daniel Kennedy, a student at the School of Modern Languages at the Humanities department. As stated in the document, the Commission of Inquiry established to examine the case (made up of two teachers and one student representing the Union of Young Communists) requested a copy of the novel, Esta Tarde Se Pone el Sol (“The Sun Sets This Afternoon”), that Iglesias had presented to the Casa de las Americas Prize that year (1973).

The opinion was that the work “is by itself proof of its author’s ideological weakness and his involvement in antisocial activities developed, in turn, by dissolute elements in collusion with foreign agents, given that in this novel there are autobiographical aspects that reflect his participation in such actions. it can be concluded that said novel is in direct contradiction with communist morality and the principles established by the Congress on Education and Culture. An aggravating situation, Iglesias Kennedy “has maintained a socially unacceptable behavior and will not be able to graduate with a major in the department in which he studies, and although he has obtained satisfactory grades, his relationships with other students in the field of social and political work have not been equally successful.” All this leads the rector to declare Iglesias Kennedy “guilty as he is accused” and to penalize him “with an indefinite suspension as student.”

There are times when it is very difficult to understand the reasons behind the Censors’ decision to ban a work. In 1956, the British Board of Film Censors banned a film by Jean Cocteau. Their argument was: “The film is apparently meaningless, but if it had any meaning, it would be reprehensible.” In this category of the absurd is perfectly accommodated a case that is enshrined in the annals of Human Rights. In 1983, the People’s Court of October 10 and the Court of Crimes Against State Security of the People’s Court of Havana convicted Mario Gaston y Hernandez to three years in prison. His “crime” was to translate a book on the prophecies of Nostradamus, which was considered an attempt to try to spread enemy propaganda. Expert opinion was sought from members of the UNEAC (Cuban Artists and Writers Union), who ruled that the text in question was “diversionary, anticommunist and anti-Soviet.” A German representative of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations described this as an unusual sentence, and said that Nostradamus had lived in the sixteenth century. But we know that the sentinels of society are not worth sensible or logical explanations. To paraphrase Pascal, censorship has reasons that reason itself does not understand.

The writers and artists who have had the misfortune of living and creating under such dictatorial regimes, could well have adopted as their motto these words that Beaumarchais expressed through one of the characters from The Marriage of Figaro: “As long as I don’t mention any of the following in my writings: authority, religion, politics, morality, local people, corporations, opera, any type of entertainment, or anyone that holds a job, I am free to write about what I wish, under the supervision of two or three censors.”

Author’s Note: The idea of this work, the first in a series that will continue in the coming weeks, began in late September, and took shape in the months after. Many of my friends can testify that during this time I have sent them e-mails or have called them to ask for information, suggestions, and data. The output of this first article coincides with the angry and fair reactions on the Island that were caused by a claim made by a commissioner in a television program. That both things happen at the same time, is, as they say in the movies–pure coincidence. It is not, therefore, opportunism on my part, or even a journalistic sense of timing. Moreover, for many of the signatories of the protests that such an execrable character receives, his mediated homage translates into an attempt to resurrect an ancient history, as their comrade Fernández Retamar would say (comrade of them, I mean, not mine, God forbid!). For me, on the contrary, it constitutes a problem that, similar to the dinosaur of Monterroso, was and continues to be there. So the title of these writings should be taken for what it is, a rhetorical question.

Carlos Espinosa

United States

Translated by: Dolores M. Goizueta

January 2007

The Misfortunes of Others / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The son of a friend, living in Sweden for years, with a Swedish family, sends an email with interesting photos of people in times of natural disasters and other such. The photos are heartrending, but what prompted this post are the texts that accompany them. Summaries indicate that there is always someone worse off; then why complain.
  2. I’ve never been conformist and consider the philosophy of conformity a waste. If as human beings we were conformists, we would still be living in the Stone Age, with none of the achievements, for better or worse, that exist today.
  3. Accepting our misfortunes, because there is someone in the world even more unfortunate, is an unacceptable attitude for someone with average intelligence. It is not looking down, but looking up, that leads to development. People aspire to excel and progress, and take not the losers as examples, but the winners. It is right and what has always happened.
  4. In my country, especially, we tried to make everyone equal in poverty and not in wealth. So we liquidated the rich and the wealth created, and turned them into poor citizens. So we achieved social equality. The formula is not original, and previously had been applied elsewhere, with similar disastrous results.
  5. I think if we ask Cubans who are here, or in Sweden, or another country, to not complain and accept our misfortunes quietly, as there are people in worse conditions in other countries, it causes inertia and stagnation, our two major ills. Fortunately, not too many people think this way. Being dissatisfied and struggling to leave our troubles behind, with our eyes on those who have made it, is a civic position. Our reality does not cloud our vision, a thing which, unfortunately, sometimes happens to those who are far away from it.

November 1, 2010


Their leaders always speak surrounded by flowers (as in the Kim Il Sung’s North Korea): decapitated flowers to perfume the death plague of so many tribunes and tribunals in the worst style of the Middle Ages (the Iranian calendar proves it), funeral flowers, fatuous gallows, coryza complicit with organized crime by a State which is assumed to be synonymous with God.

East, the Orient, a word round like a zero. Cuba also has its own. Its Near East. A province devastated from genetics to the Revolution. Iran also had theirs. Its unpopular populist revolution that put in power forever the beards who wear a suit but never a tie. A homophobic state in the full sense of the term human phobia, disgusted before history (Islam as Idyll building in the holy land which Allah rented us in the verses of the Koran).

Death has been raining cats and dogs in either East. That’s the price of being the birthplace of one or another Revolution. The carnage appears to be the spice pf justice in both Orients. And the Oriental woman could in no way be an exception. It would be to discriminate against them on behalf of the State or of God (Allah is not miserable, but merciful).

There is no worse ire then, than that of Iran against its fledgling citizenry, which is why it humiliates their bodies with punishment, so they criminalize desire, and for this Sakineh Ashtiani there in her gloomy Tabriz touches death on Wednesday in the cowardly face of the world.

It is no worse than Cuba, cut from the same cloth: which is why the prisons are full of natives, and dissent criminalized, so there is Reina Luisa Tamayo in barbaric Banes where they give her a hard time every Sunday (the particular day of the Lord) until the outcome is a disgrace. Another misfortune, because her son Orlando Zapata Tamayo died earlier in this year of 2010, among specialists from the Ministry of Interior who respected his penultimate will (that of a hunger striker), but not the first and the last (political prisoner pushed to the limit of his endurance.)

Stones against demonstrators. Stones against women. Stones against mothers. Stones to make death bloom, and so the executioners of God or of the State flood the sands of our Eastern gardens in blood, that liquid devalued since modernity (Marx as a contemporary of Muhammad) popularized the practice of transfusion.

XXI century democracies are haggard caricatures before such atrocious legislation. The paper holds all the indignation that they stoned you. The criminal codes of half the world feel sorry. But just enough to make it a better country. A base of stones and panics. Do not fear a crude death.

In this sense, Sakineh Ashtiani and Reina Luisa Tamayo are actually much more than adulterers: both have adulterated the founding of one or another nation. Pissed on the horror of one or another Orient. Believed in freedom for themselves and theirs, despite what is stipulated in the great rebellion, or perhaps in the great revelation of the sacred writings of Cuba and Iran.

Sakineh Ashtiani and Reina Luisa Tamayo did not believe in shutting up, or  hiding their scars and their pain. To what did these mothers aspire? To what did these women aspire. To what did these protesters aspire fearlessly? The two have just what they deserve.

Stones first. Later, the Constitutions of their respective countries generously guarantee that the flowers will not be lacking.

November 4, 2010

Personal Catastrophes / Yoani Sánchez

Aerocaribbean plane ATR 72 (CU-T1545) at the airport Holguin, Cuba, similar to the plane that crashed today

How many human dramas around each victim in the crash of Aerocaribbean Flight 833. The similarity of names in the passenger list suggest that parents and children, brothers and sisters, couples with their offspring, have been lost. I remember that among the names mentioned on the news this morning was that of a Japanese tourist, who also lost his life thousands of miles from that other island so different from ours. I can’t stop thinking about him or the others who died in the plane that should have been a road, a bridge, a highway, but never the last one.

Behind each of the 40 Cuban passengers the tragedy is also enormous. They bought that fatal ticket three months before their departure day and waited in a long line to board a mode of transportation that in this country is rare and extremely expensive. Probably relieved to know that they would make the trip from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in something a little less chaotic than the national train. Their presence on that ATR 72/212 was the conclusion of a sequence of sacrifices that started just when they had the need — or the desire — to travel within Cuba, and that would end only when they arrived at their fate.

Misfortune lurks on all sides, this we know, but it is difficult to process the idea that people climb the stairs of an airplane and a shortly afterward their names are read, in a solemn voice, on national television. I return again and again to the images of the possible family embrace that was waiting in the arrival airport, of the mother who learned in Buenos Aires or Amsterdam that her son would not return, or of the pilot’s wife saying goodbye while thinking, like every other time, that he would soon return home. These are the personal catastrophes, the human dramas, that began to descend in the same minute that the plane fell to earth.

November 5, 2010

The Press That Devalues the Writer / Miguel Iturria Savón

In October, when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, author of The City and the Dogs, Conversation in the Cathedral and The Feast of the Goat, the Cuban press downplayed the contributions of the great novelist and wasted ink on slander, due to the author’s criticism of Castro, whose spokesmen break their spears over anyone who demystifies our dictatorship.

Long ago, however, the American reporter Joseph Pulitzer suggested that “real journalism never takes sides, no matter what happens,” advice rejected in Cuba and elsewhere on the planet. On this Caribbean island bias is still the norm and censorship the law, because the media are in government hands and are based on ideological simplifications, which idealize allies and demonize enemies.

For Pulitzer, “A free press must always advocate for progress and reform. Never tolerate injustice or corruption. Fight demagogues of all stripes. Belong to no party. Oppose privileges and public pillage. Offer its sympathy to the poor and always remain devoted to the good.”

He noted further that the media has to be ethical and professional and provide two sides of every coin, that is, the version of each warring party, always equally displayed. “If not, then it isn’t journalism: It’s just trash, and the worst kind, that is the typical garbage that sells itself to any political or economic interest distinct from the real truth of things.”

In Cuba we are far from applying those definitions, although we know that in other latitudes Pulitzer’s advice is included in the codes of ethics of newspapers, magazines, digital media and radio and television stations. Set-ups and half-truths are expensive because the media are based on news sources, but to reverse the pyramid and expose the voices of people without an agenda, elucidates the problems and oxygenates the atmosphere.

There is very little credibility in the press. By design it is a part of the ideological department of a single party and of ministerial interests, so that its perception does not approximate reality, as it excludes its images, including art, literature and socio-historical notions of the country.

When Pedro de la Hoz, Granma’s cultural writer, lashed out against Mario Vargas Llosa, he accomplished nothing more than to demonstrate the impunity and self-censorship of those who serve a regime that loathes ethics and truth and opposes any critical appreciation, even in the case of a writer recognized with awards such as the Prince of Asturias Prize in Letters (1986), the Cervantes Prize (1994) and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

November 5, 2010

Sakharov for Fariñas: Acknowledgment of Cuban Democrats / Voices Behind The Bars

Generally, awards give rise to controversies, and that is normal. Only totalitarian regimes are bent on wanting everyone to think and act the same way. But, despite some voices who disagree (most of which come straight from those who defend the regime), the most popular and prestigious awards handed out throughout the world during the last couple of years have favored the struggle for democracy.

First, the Norwegian Academy prized the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, with the Nobel Peace Prize. Days later, the journalist and peaceful Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has been awarded the Sakharov prize. Both of these fighters share a common characteristic: Liu and Fariñas both defend human rights, and have both suffered political imprisonment for promoting civilized changes in their respective countries. Most likely, neither of these two men will be able to accept such awards, which were achieved after much effort, willpower, and courage, in person.

The Cuban authorities have systematically violated the rights of Cubans to exit and return to their countries freely. And this is the third occasion that one of our very own has won the Sakharov prize – a fact that I am beyond proud of. The first recipient was Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (2002). In 2005, the Ladies in White were distinguished with the award, and now it has been Fariñas’ turn. But the authorities of Havana did not authorize the representatives of this group of women to pack their bags to assist the ceremony being held at the European Parliament to receive the award. And, if Paya was able to take that trip in 2002, it was solely accredited to the pressures of the international community.

The process of the liberation of Cuban political prisoners, which went underway this past summer, and of which I benefited from, was made possible to various factors. The unfortunate death of the political prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was what put the whole process in motion. Later, we must signal out the bravery displayed by the Ladies in White, the firm attitude kept by those who were imprisoned due to reasons of conscience, and the final straw was the hunger strike undertaken by Fariñas, which had the purpose of demanding freedom for the gravest of the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring. All of this was further backed up by a strong wave of international pressure.

This is why I cannot help but congratulate (and appreciate) Fariñas for his Sakharov Prize, which he has dedicated to the Cuban people. His recognition of all democratic Cubans leaves it very clear that he will continue fighting for democracy in Cuba.

– Pablo Pacheco

Translated by Raul G.

October 27, 2010

Pleasant and Overly Familiar / Rebeca Monzo

Every day, in the establishments where they offer any kind of service, in the shops, schools and even in offices, one finds staff who lack the capacity, knowledge and skill, for you to deal with them with any confidence, to a point that borders on excessive familiarity. Could they possibly think that in treating you this way they are being pleasant?

Wherever you go, it’s gotten so bad it’s a joke, you find people who address you with expressions like “Aunty,” “Moms,” “Old lady,” “China,” and so on. They are incapable of respect, cannot respond appropriately to a question put to them, because for the most part the lack any understanding of what respect it. And in general, they don’t take any responsibility for the answers they give you.

For two months I’ve been calling the National Archives once a week. I signed a sort of contract with them two months ago, and paid in advance, as required, for them to do some research. Every time I call the same person — I know it’s the same person because it’s the same voice — tells me, “Nothing yet Moms.” When I rebuke them, stating my rights, she says, “We don’t have enough staff Moms, to do what you want.”

Today, once again mustering my patience, I called the Archive and the same voice answered, and said exactly the same thing. I asked her name and very quickly, as if I’d attacked her, she answered, “Sorry Moms, I don’t have to give my name.”

“What? Then you are working there illegally?” I said. “Look Moms, I have to hang up,” was her response.

Given the situation, I plan to go there to meet with her in person, her and her immediate superior.

Help For Whom? / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I’ve always been aware that Support Groups for Solidarity with Cuba exist in different countries. Most are organized and staffed by the corresponding embassies and repeat the official propaganda, responding, like the legendary RCA dog, to the voice of their master.
  2. I prefer to believe that many of their members, if not some of their leaders, are honest people who feel they are doing something useful for the Cuban people. However, a fact that is well-defined in their respective countries — that there is a difference between a people and its government — is obviously absurd in the case of our country. Cuba is not only its government, but also the citizens who do and don’t support it and those who don’t opine.
  3. It seems that, unfortunately, the mixture of terminology coming from our country for many years now, where country, nation, socialism and party are synonymous, has crossed national frontiers and sparked confusion and chaos among our friends.
  4. I consider the Groups of Support and Solidarity necessary, but not with the government but with Cubans, with all Cubans without exception because, in one way or another, we all suffer the most serious scarcities and we are immersed in a national tragedy.
  5. Cuba, as a nation, is much more than an ideology or transitory politics, like everything human. Help and solidarity with Cuba is accomplished with the whole nation, not the government.

November 4, 2010