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.

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