Casa de las Americas Licks Its Wounds on Its 65th Anniversary and Longs for Its Influence in the Region

The top brass of the regime accompanies Abel Prieto on the anniversary of the institution / Casa de las Américas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, April 27, 2024 — After 65 years operating as a kind of second ministry of culture, Casa de las Américas longs for the time when the institution was more powerful and influenced the cultural debates of the continent. On the eve of the anniversary, its president, cultural commissioner Abel Prieto, regrets the lack of “coherence” of the institution and assures that “the amount of crazy things full of lies” that are said about the Island’s regime do it “damage.”

Founded just four months after Fidel Castro’s arrival in Havana in 1959, Casa de las Américas emerged with a declared vocation: to take advantage of the intellectual enthusiasm caused by the “beards” to attract Latin American writers to the Island. The success was total. From promising young people like Ricardo Piglia to figures of the stature of Miguel Ángel Asturias, they passed through the institution or aspired to its literary prize.

Now, Prieto invokes the controversies that marked the first decades of Casa de las Américas, such as the emergence of the magazine Mundo Nuevo – emblem of the Latin American boom and under the direction, from 1966 to 1971, of the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodríguez Monegal – about which he states that it was “designed, built and launched as a counterweight to our magazine Casa de las Américas.”

Prieto invokes the controversies that marked the first decades of Casa de las Américas, such as the emergence of the magazine ’Mundo Nuevo’

The former Minister of Culture attributes to the United States multiple “traps”, “storms” and “manipulations” to sink the institution. He speaks with fury about the Rómulo Gallegos prize, saying “it is founded to oppose the Casa de las Américas prize,” although he does not mention that the regimes of Hugo Chávez and Castro ended up hijacking it. In 2000, invited to be on the jury for the Rómulo Gallegos prize, the novelist Roberto Bolaño denounced that the “chavista” methods of the organizers – who “designated” the politically convenient winner – were already identical to those of Havana in the 60s.

“The Casa always has an answer,” Granma celebrates in its interview with Prieto. The commissioner nods, but insists that everything in today’s world leans “to the right,” because “the Yankees have dedicated a lot of money” to preventing the cultural work of the Island. “At the center of all those controversies was the dispute over that area so important that is the intellectual field,” he says, and recalls that the institution always tried to be “at the center of those hurricanes.”

“At the center of all those controversies was the dispute over that so important area that is the intellectual field”

Prieto dedicated a long commentary to his predecessors, notably the founder of the Casa Haydée Santamaría, who “loved a lot, admired and lost” – he said, enigmatically, when announcing a book of tributes that he published this year – and whose suicide allowed Mariano Rodríguez to preside over the House until 1986. On that date, the poet Roberto Fernández Retamar assumed the position, until his death in 2019. After spending time as Raúl Castro’s “personal advisor,” and two long periods as Minister of Culture, Prieto took charge of the institution.

Boldly, the commissioner leaves his most daring statement for the end of his interview: “Many people say that the so-called Latin American boom, especially in the novel, has to do with the Cuban Revolution, firstly, and secondly, with the work of the Casa de las Américas.” Of those writers – whose progressive break with Havana was sonorous – however, he only mentions two: Gabriel García Márquez, Castro’s unconditional friend, and Julio Cortázar, whose criticisms of the Revolution were minimal and always in private correspondence.

In his personal account of the history of the institution, Prieto also did not mention the internal cultural controversies in which Casa de las Américas played a leading role. He did not allude to the fact that the magazine served to publish aggressive ideological libels – such as Calibán, from Retamar himself – against those who opposed the cultural vision of Havana and, on many occasions, personal attacks on authors that the regime disapproved of, such as Jorge Luis Borges.

Nor does it speak of the famous 1971 issue of the Casa magazine, in which the transcripts of the National Congress of Education and Culture appeared, with the authorities “locating” and “healing” homosexuals. Also appearing in the final pages of that issue, which served as a road map for what was known as the “Five Grey Years,” was the self-indictment of the poet Heberto Padilla, arrested by the State Security weeks before the publication.

The Casa building, next to the Havana Malecón, has long ceased to be a meeting and gathering center

The Casa building, next to the Havana Malecón, has long ceased to be a meeting and gathering center. Affected by multiple hurricanes and hard-pressed for a repair, the property ran out of steam as a cultural space in recent years. The most important event of the century that took place inside its walls was the one that happened in 2007 after the “Little War of Emails” was unleashed over the exaltation in the official media of former political commissioners of the “Five Grey Years.”

During weeks of exchanges by email, direct accusations of the Ministry of Culture and of Fidel Castro himself, dozens of intellectuals and artists lashed out against cultural policy on the Island. The official response was to convene a meeting at the Casa de las Américas to calm the tempers and stir up revolutionary spirits. The call left out the most critical figures in that controversy, and after it was over, the political police were brutal against the rebellious voices.

On its 65th birthday, the institution is still sheltered by the regime, whose top brass, headed by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, accompanied Prieto in the anniversary ceremony. The Casa de las Américas Awards were also given out this week. The “Latin American unity” award is the only one that Cuba pays in dollars.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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