The book ‘The Compañero Who Watches Me’ was presented last Thursday in Coral Gables (Florida) and reflects its authors’ preoccupation with the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuba
14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 3 November 2017 — Writing a book can be like an exorcism, especially when trying to leave behind ghosts of the past. This is the case with publisher Hypermedia’s new book, El compañero que me atiende (The Compañero Who Watches Me), a compilation of fictional stories by 57 authors, collected by Enrique del Risco, about the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuban life. Something that marked the national literary output.
“This book is not a memorial of grievances, nor is it a book about repression. In the Cuban case, on the list of those aggrieved by a regime that is close to finishing its sixth decade, writers score rather low compared to other parts of society,” clarified compiler Del Risco.
The book, almost 500 pages long, was presented Thursday in the bookstore Altamira Books, a very welcoming place in the city of Coral Gables (Florida); the store’s purpose is to “foster knowledge and use of the Spanish language,” according to its owners.
Del Risco, the renowned Cuban poet and narrator Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, Abel Fernandez Larrea, Jose M. Fernandez and Luis Felipe Roja, journalist for Radio Marti, presented the book to almost a hundred people among whom were some of the best Cuban writers in exile.
“This book began as an idea and was written thanks to the enthusiastic response of the authors who are in Cuba and in the diaspora. We have stories by 57 writers who are not only in the United States but in different parts of Latin America, Canada and Europe,” explained Del Risco.
El compañero que me atiende collects for the first time passages by authors who speak of the surveillance work of the Cuban state and how this influences the Island’s literature. Del Risco told 14ymedio that the response exceeded his expectations. “We have writers of all ages. Censorship and surveillance is a national phenomenon that has happened at all social levels and is a common denominator in the whole revolutionary process,” he said.
“The book also helps those writers and artists who have been censored and surveilled feel part of a society that suffers that as a whole. It is not just something that belongs to intellectuals but workers, women, students, everyone has been a part of and victim of this phenomenon,” explains Del Risco.
Among the authors who live on the Island is the writer – recently released from jail – Angel Santiesteban, who presents his story The Men of Richelieu, part of an unpublished book entitled Zone of Silence.
Also from Cuba came stories by the actress and writer Mariela Brito, Raul Aguiar, Atilio Caballero, Ernesto Santana, Jorge Angel Perez, and Jorge Espinosa, among others.
The central idea of the anthology is to give voice to writers so that they can describe the surveillance atmosphere created by the totalitarian state as a consequence of the political system installed in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution.
Writer Jose M. Fernandez, who emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1998, recalled that in his writings he had proposed the thesis that the Cuban political system, in spite of having declared itself atheistic, “was organized as a profoundly religious structure around a dogma.”
“It had its Christ and its martyrs, and the compañero who watched us was the ghost,” explains Fernandez.
Writing his story, removed from the politics but addressing the lurking danger of being heard in a country in which each person seems to be an ear of the state, “freed” him.
“I realized that it was like a salvation because the trauma accompanied me throughout my life. It was not caused by the censorship itself but because those who were my friends, my companions and those with whom I had to finish five long years of university lent themselves and caused it to happen,” says Fernandez who has had a prolific career in the Dominican Republic.
According to the author, although a good part of his story is fiction, there are some events that did occur in the city of his birth, Santiago de Cuba. On sharing his story with a friend, the response she gave surprised him: “As always happens in Cuba, the reality surpasses the fiction,” she told him.
Fernandez has planned to send a sample of the book “to the companion who attends him” with this dedication: “You fucked me over, but I immortalized you.”
Legna Rodriguez, for her part, said that a good number of Cubans do not realize how powerful the surveillance they are subjected to. “It is not felt or seen, but it becomes a sickness, an amorality, a cancer,” said the writer.
Luis Felipe Rojas remembered the long interrogations to which he was subjected by the authorities because of the passages that he published on his blog Crossing the Barbed Wire.
“I always thought that I should write about this, that I could fictionalize it, but it wasn’t until I left Cuba that all that flowed. Inside it would have been impossible,” said the communicator.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel