Message from Leonel Brito / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

I am writing to you at the wrong time perhaps, but better late than never, as the well-known adage says. The monastic life I have been leading in one of the programs of the Battle of Ideas has dramatically separated me from my usual contacts with the cultural world; hence the controversy unloosed around the disgraceful appearance of several of those responsible for cultural policy of the “black decade” and not the “Five-year Gray Period,” as Desiderio Navarro has shown lucidly in his “In medias res publica,” has come to me late.

I am young (barely in my twenties), and in part I’m responding to Arturo Arango’s just claim that it would be alarming if those of my generation didn’t participate in this outrage, even though we didn’t experience this atrocious and horrifying process, because, as Oscar Llanes says, the exclusion of our presence now would just reproduce, consciously or unconsciously (we don’t know), those repressive methods of silencing and marginalization, known in all its shapes and sizes. It’s time to talk, comment, discuss this issue, as forbidden as other issues were in those years.

Consider, for example, that those names (Luis Pavón, Jorge Serguera and others) are now heard by us for the first time. So I think, along with many young people who don’t want under any circumstances to suffer a second helping of pavonato (remember that second helpings are never good), that it hasn’t been pure coincidence that such a consecutive appearance of those sinister characters, directly or indirectly responsible for making lives and work so miserable for many intellectuals who championed pluralistic thought, as should happen in a truly democratic society that is responsive to its citizens.

Take into account, especially, the epic and apologetic television show with which they were presented. And not only was it a lack of the most basic ethics, and now I’m not talking about that humanist ethic that “pavonates” us before the world and ourselves, but it was also an aggression impervious to most of those who lived during that time, whether intellectual or not, (family, friends and people in general), who had to suffer forms of dogmatism, opportunism and the distortion of a certain ideology, manipulated to the limit, forms which are still new to many of us.

Publicly praising people who were involved in such barbarity leaves no room for the slightest doubt in today’s political and social context. It’s not only a symptom or a syndrome, in the words of one of the debaters, it’s without ghosts or pathological elaborations a very clear announcement of what might happen in an increasingly uncertain future, and that these, and new and worse, processes could repeat themselves. So it seems to me fair and irrevocably necessary, this protest you started. You can count on the support of the youngest, of those who begin their walk down a path that can be abruptly cut off, and we are not willing to submit, not for our parents, nor for ourselves.

Leonel Brito

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007

Messages from José Rojas Bez / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Dear Desideri,

Receive once more a warm embrace from this friend “beyond the capital.”

I welcome your fair challenge to the title of “GROUP” being applied to the large and diverse number of participants in the current debate, and the last paragraphs, about our “culture of spectacle” (and their “controls”), motivate me even more.

But I wanted to make an observation. Knowing you for years (you and your work), I know that this is a lapse in the editing when you talk about “the important ones.” It’s worth clarifying that we are all equally important as human beings and potential “contributors” although not equally “known”or “influential.” Let’s avoid falling into the trap that we criticize; thanks to the mass media and other “promotions” we don’t always properly know the best, and very often – this is the more serious! – the worst are too highly “ranked.”

You confirm my reasons, already stated, that the problem is not a “Pavón” nor a “Five-year gray period,” simplifications that, although well-observed, can serve as “symptoms” (“indices,” “icons” and “symbols”) in order to know and reject so many, innumerable “Pavóns” and “Pavonas” and “problems” from yesterday, today and tomorrow (since I don’t think they can be solved from one moment to another – I wish!), but that – poorly brandished – they can serve to focus excessively on the problems over two or three peculiarities and circumstances. Let’s prevent this error! continue reading

In my previous email I pointed out three or four among the possibly infinite number, including those of education and, of course, the media, with their manipulations, open doors to mediocrity and opportunism, and the mistrust of the depth, sincerity and culture that is not the “aesthetic of superficiality.” Although it’s a universal problem – and apart from the fact that another’s wrong act doesn’t justify your own – the “Pavóns,” structures, conditions and uses – especially the “uses “- have worsened it among us. I’m glad you insist on that. What a great topic for a broad debate “shirtless”! (Would it solve anything, I wonder?) I am sending you here an article where not long ago I suggested reflections from the universal to the personal about that. ).

Since it’s very brief, I’m attaching it, so you can take a look when you finish your “current emergency reading.”

Sincerely, Rojas Bez

Another message from José Rojas Bez to Juan Antonio García Borrero

Your email worries me doubly.

I am struck, first, by the double or repeated mistake of seeing only the critic Colina as “sensitized.” I’m glad that Gustavo has now clarified for you that there were others who were “sensitized” even long before Colina, from the very beginning, like Luciano and Frank. I say “before” because of a simple chronological order and not to highlight differences in sensitivity nor anything else, but to point out that, having followed the debate, you should already have “noticed” others.

But you fall back into the mistake, since it’s not “also” Luciano, Frank and Gustavo, but also Rojas, from the very beginning of the debate, along with others (Marrón, Manuel García,…) that I suppose you don’t know as well, but I think you do, because they’re not members of the Association (not everyone is, nor are all not). I hope you haven’t forgotten that I am also critical (and an old acquaintance of yours as the founder of our Association and from even earlier). Or that our youngest friend Gustavo has misinformed you without wanting to. Well, this is teasing.

What happens is that many “film critics” are interested not only in movies, but also even more in Culture and Society. Above all in Culture, Spirituality and Society, and we don’t focus on our “sensitivity” nor on our participation in film (in parentheses, neither does Colina), nor on our being in essence “film critics.” Perhaps because of that you didn’t notice it well.

The second concern: Will you be imbued with excessive relativism? Won’t you have a little more definition? The ending of your letter leaves me with that worry.

Don’t you know that there is critical thinking within the island, which doesn’t need “to be brought into the light” to make itself real for you (and others) because it DOES exist, though it’s not the most widespread officially, and though it can always, and SHOULD BE, enriched by you, and many, many more … even off the island … Is it contempt, folly or another mistake about the above? Remember that you criticized the critics who believe themselves to be “the navel of the world.” You amaze me when you say, for example:

“I know you’ve written all this with the pressure of the ‘hot debate’ and that you’re sharper than what you show in this specific email. I invite you therefore to think more calmly and, of course, to remain critical, inside and out, up and down, in the capital or the province, when it’s with honesty and love for Cuba and Culture.”

Finally, I am not opposed to any meeting of critics, as someone has suggested. Why not, except for the practical problems of cost and schedule? No discussion or reflection is bad. Now is fine, always when it’s not converted into an “elite” or special group, but always merged into the COLLECTIVE DEBATE, of all and for the good of ALL, though, as the Film Critics Association, we should accentuate, emphasize the problems of film.

Sincerely, your old friend, the equally old friend, old critic and film researcher and old exerciser of opinions, not just about film.

Rojas Bez

Message from José Rojas Bez to Desiderio Navarro

I just got your message of righteous disapproval, along with that of other friends and colleagues who, logically, seem to be multiplying.

First of all, I have established that I’m joining a protest that is so just.

However (and here come the “buts”), I regret that such energy is deployed only now and that we have not shown it before (myself included, of course, in the criticism) on countless occasions.

Is the “Pavón” case a symptom, or rather a syndrome?

It’s a syndrome that has never been absent although sometimes it’s more hidden than at others.

I speak to you from a province (typically conservative and exclusionary), and I want to remind you that, if Havana has always been, by obligation and not by mere desire, more permissive and pseudo-liberal than the rest of the country… then imagine the rest that are removed from the best ministers and the best intentions, and in the hands of the local “fates.”

Many Pavóns (even female ones, of course, not to be sexist and also to recognize that some females have the ability to take advantage of the rostrum and others get close to power to “make themselves felt,” to impose themselves like Pavón) have never ceased to exist. Nor have their associations, like opportunism, suspicion and laudatory phraseology beyond work and serious achievements.

Either way, I insist on my criticism (and self-criticism) that we have never made protests nor proposals that are as energetic and collective on numerous issues involving the nation and culture, including the causes (first and second), and not simply the third with the most visible and skin-deep effects.

There is, among countless possible examples, to not get further away in time, that larger problem of the implications of the dismantling of our historic sugar industry, not only for the economy, but also for the life of the villages, communities and other spiritual areas related to that industry.

What about everything that has generated tourism and its managers, the new “status” and “culture” well above being a worker in other areas, which reproduces bourgeois behavior … in this case with State budgets and risks?

But let’s refer to the strictly “cultural.”

How many times do we use that “anti-Pavón” energy to suggest lower expenses and damages in everlasting manipulations to absorb information, and demand more criticism and analysis or, same thing, less triumphalism? Or when Customs seizes political books sent from outside by colleagues for our information, denying us the right to read and judge them on our own?

And what about the opportunistic, distorted views of our history and our heroes, like that pitiable image of Martí (actually anti-Martí), increasingly official and enthroned, of a democratic Marti – popular, “pre-Marxist”? Or the poor little guy, the immature Martí, who had not yet seen the light of Marxism, remaining in the “pre”! What reader of Martí could ignore that he not only knew about Marxism and socialism, but he also did not approve, in the most truly Cuban tradition, that of Father Félix Varela, Agramonte, et al, and he was not a simple pre-university student!?

Brave, the editor (not the writer) who published essays about Martí’s idealism or the fruitful influence of idealism on Martí!

And neither did we protest so much when the mentioned Father Varela was left offensively without the “Father” because, they said, he was a patriot and great “in spite of” being religious.

Brave, the editor (not the writer) who published some essay claiming that the patriot and the man of faith were inseparable, and the more faith the bigger he was!

And how difficult it was to publish essays related to biblical books (of course, when it was to praise them or give them merit) even if on a strictly literary level!

Let’s not forget, by the way, how only an atheist education (not secular, which would have been okay, but aggressively atheistic) was maintained for decades.

When, among thousands of possible examples, we so angrily demanded for years that they publish Dulce Maria Loynaz, and that such an illustrious creator, like many others, let’s say Lezama Lima himself, were “non-existent” in our programs and textbooks on Cuban literature?

Okay, esteemed (and also admired Desiderio, since we owe a lot to your informative work and diffusion of high culture), let’s cry out against Pavón and all the Pavóns, male and female, but the two or three examples given among a possibly infinite number remind us that it’s not a question only of a Pavón or some other individual and circumstance, from that time and before, up to the present year.

Receive, as always, my warmest hugs.

Rojas Bez

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007

Thoughts on Fidel’s “Words to the Intellectuals” and other texts / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

– From Josefina de Diego –

I confess that I didn’t remember the full text known as “Words to the Intellectuals,” delivered by Fidel Castro on June 30, 1961, at the National Library to a group of intellectuals. I think that, like many people, the only thing I remembered from the text was his famous declaration of principles, “Within the revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing” which, without doubt, sums up the essence of the document.

In the debate that is taking place at this time among a group of people – not only by intellectuals – by e-mail (which limits, of course, a larger participation), they started asking questions about a number of problems, past and present, of national culture, upon the surprising reappearance of three officials – simple executors of a cultural policy drawn and guided by the highest leadership of the country, who, in the decade of the ’70s, were at the forefront of major cultural institutions: former Lt. Luis Pavón (President of the National Council for Culture, 1971-1976), former commander Serguera Papito (director of Cuban Television, 1966-1973) and Armando Quesada, who, among other things, was responsible for destroying the Cuban theater during those years. These functionaries were former military officers who had been part of Raul Castro’s team. Given the current situation in the country, in which the Minister of the Armed Forces has assumed the leadership of the government, many thought that the “resurrection” of Pavón, Serguera and Quesada was a sign that there would be a return to the past.

During the “reign” of these gentlemen, a veritable witch-hunt was unleashed in the country against gay writers and artists; books were censored (the “Padilla case,” 1971), what was called “ideological deviations” (having long hair, wearing blue jeans, listening to the Beatles and other groups and singers not well-regarded by the government, having “wrong sexual preferences,” professing any religion, etc.) were severely punished; the poet and novelist Jose Lezama Lima, who died in 1976, was condemned to an intellectual silence, etc.

Although the persecution worsened in these five years, it had started in the early ’60s (censorship of the film, P.M.; UMAP; charges against Padilla and Arrufat in 1968; the destruction of the collection of poems by Delphin Prats, Lenguaje de mudos (1968); the banning on radio and television of broadcasts about artists who had gone abroad, they began purging the country’s universities, etc.) and this would continue, with different nuances, sometimes more, sometimes less, until today. continue reading

Examples abound: the censorship in the artistic movement of the late ’80s, the relentless criticism of the film Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas (1991); the imprisonment of María Elena Cruz Varela (1993); criticism of the film Guantanamera (1997, at a meeting in the Palacio de las Convenciones, after Eliseo Alberto, co-screenwriter of the film and author of the book, informed against me, he won the Alfaguara Novel Prize), the impossibility of mentioning writers and artists living abroad who don’t have a position that is “comfortable” for the system, the “disactivation” (no longer belonging to UNEAC) of the writer Antonio José Ponte upon finding out that he was part of the editorial board of the magazine Encuentro (2002), the jailing of poet Raúl Rivero and others for the crime of expressing their opinions openly, although they were accused of being “enemy agents” in hasty trials (2003); the censorship of documentaries and critical short films, like the recent case of Monte Rouge (2005), etc.

Pavón, Serguera and Quesada disappeared from the cultural “landscape” in 1976 when the Ministry of Culture was founded and started a new stage that, no doubt, wished to correct the mistakes and tried to foster an environment of trust and respect, which was achieved in many ways. To reappear in the final months of 2006, thirty years later, in three different programs on Cuban television. Those who suffered firsthand the injustices committed during those years reacted angrily, with good reason, and decided to show it through the limited space of email.

The controversy has transcended national borders, many Cubans living abroad have expressed their views. Others – inside and outside – want the debate to include other key issues (a justified demand since, as the economists of the nineteenth century including Karl Marx, said, “the economic base defines the superstructure,” from where it naturally follows that we must seek answers about the culture in the economy). Unfortunately, some use abusive language, bring out the “dirty laundry” and tarnish a discussion that could and should be deep, serious and inclusive of all opinions.

The tone of the debate has ranged from complex and measured analysis to actual attacks, furious and unpleasant. I think for the good of all and the country, it would be advisable that we all try to listen with tolerance and respect to each other’s opinions. In a country where for years the only prevailing view has been the official standard – with very limited space for debate – it’s not easy to develop a balanced dialogue, without offense or impassioned responses.

In the “Declaration of the Secretariat of UNEAC,” insufficient and misguided for many – no one understands why it was drafted like that, if they had plenty of time to write something more elaborate and consistent with everything that had been proposed – it states: “Cultural policy reflects Martí; it’s the anti-dogmatic, creative and participatory policy of Fidel and Raúl, founded on ‘Words to the intellectuals,’ and irreversible.” Alfredo Guevara also endorses this statement. And this is the point I want to analyze.

In the first place, Fidel defined the cultural policy in his words. Raúl Castro had nothing to do with it, among other things, because it’s not his specialty. The fact that his name is added to the declaration of UNEAC responds to the current situation, not to his actual participation in its development. The meeting with the intellectuals came two months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, in an extremely difficult time for the Revolution, with strong and real threats from the United States and a huge political tension that would peak in October the next year. The main topic of discussion, according to Fidel himself, was freedom of expression.

No one questions the form, just the content, and it sets out clearly a disturbing indictment: he who has doubts is not a true revolutionary. I think, with all due respect, this approach is not correct, not true, and it’s this criterion that led to a series of injustices against artists. It generated an official thinking that was rigid, narrow and reminiscent of the excesses and mistakes of the Soviet Union beginning with the era of Stalin. Why could a revolution that had the support and love of the majority of the population not allow dissent? It would have been healthier for the system to allow the free exchange of ideas, because, undoubtedly, the Revolution, with all its social and economic achievements, would be victorious in this battle. But it chose the path of rigidity, and that path led to an abyss of frustration and injustice.

What calls my attention is the beginning of his speech, where Fidel propounds that:

“That is, the benefits, both material and cultural, were designed to be enjoyed by protagonists and contemporaries of the Revolution. The writers and artists would be living their moment of fulfillment, they were granted the right to be free, a right won with weapons in a just struggle. But those who mistrusted, who had different opinions, were automatically ‘out of the game’. In the cultural supplement Lunes de Revolucion, founded in 1959, the writers who belonged to the Grupo Origenes were harshly criticized, by Catholics, the bourgeois and those who were apathetic. Didn’t these writers feel marginalized from the revolutionary process? Weren’t they made to feel guilty for doubting and having philosophical ideas that were different from those of the successful revolution? Wasn’t the moment of ‘now and for the men of this time’ meant for them”?

But in the end, Fidel affirms the opposite and asks for the ultimate sacrifice:

“Gentlemen, would it not be better to think about the future? Are we to think that our flowers will wilt when we are planting flowers everywhere? When we are forging these creative spirits of the future? And who would not change the present, who would not change even their own present for that future? Who would not change his, who would not sacrifice his for the future? And those who have artistic sensibility, don’t they have the disposition of the fighter who dies in battle, knowing that he dies, that he ceases to exist physically to fertilize with his blood the road of triumph for those like him, his people? Think of the soldier who dies fighting, sacrifices everything he has, sacrifices his life, sacrifices his family, sacrifices his wife, sacrifices his children. For what? For us to do these things. And those who have human sensitivity, artistic sensibility, don’t you think it’s worth making the necessary sacrifices? But the revolution is not asking sacrifices of creative geniuses; on the contrary, the Revolution says: put this creative spirit in service of this work, without fearing the work will be cut short. But if one day you think your work may be cut short, say: it’s well worth it to have my personal work cut short in order to do work like what we have before us.”
One of the topics discussed was the censorship of the documentary made by Sabá Cabrera, P.M. It was considered harmful for the people because it presented scenes of night life in Cuba, at the end of 1960, that were not found, according to the standards of the senior ICAIC functionaries, at the height of the moment being lived by the country. Fidel talks about the documentary, although he confesses that he has not seen it.

I think in the context of the times, as I said, in the midst of difficult situations in which the Revolution needed to consolidate itself, an inflexible and cautious policy was justified, and that the approach of “against the Revolution, nothing” had its reason for existing. On countless occasions the country’s development has demanded changes, adjustments, modifications; it’s a logical process of life itself. Fidel himself has not hesitated to make these changes: he denounced the “errors and negative tendencies” (1984); there were major shifts in economic policy (“now we are going to build socialism,” he affirmed in 1986, denouncing a series of situations that threatened the country’s economic development), and more recently, in his speech at the Aula Magna of the University of Havana (November 17, 2005), he made these reflections.

I don’t think we should accept that the Martían cultural policy, anti-dogmatic, creative and participatory, of Fidel and Raúl, founded on “Words to the intellectuals,” is irreversible, among other things because that statement itself is dogmatic (as defined by the DRAE, “dogmatic”: inflexible, holding opinions as firm truths, without doubts or contradictions.”) Everything can be reversible (only death is not); everything can be improved, adapted or made more perfect; all have the right to participate, pro and con. In Cuba – perhaps as in no other country – education and culture have developed; art schools have been created, a successful literacy campaign was carried out, libraries have multiplied, education has been brought to the most remote corners of the island, a solid, superior intellectual and artistic movement has been created. So I think it’s time to raise a genuine national dialogue, where everything is questioned and analyzed, without fear or rules, and where a genuine exercise of freedom of expression is permitted.

Josefina de Diego

Havana, January 25, 2007

Another text from Josefina de Diego

“Let’s follow orders” or “Who belled the cat”?

The “Five-year gray period,” framed between the years 1971-1976, was only a stage – not gray but black – within the entire cultural context of the island. The problems that are attributed to this period had begun from 1959, and had “their best definition” in June 1961, with the famous “Words to the intellectuals,” handed down by Fidel in the National Library.

In late 1960, the documentary PM, directed by Sabá Cabrera Infante and Orlando Jiménez Leal, was censored. Lunes de Revolución lambasted the Grupo Orígenes (1959-1961); in 1961, private schools were nationalized, and priests and nuns were expelled; that year also created the ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organizations), which merged all political groups that fought against the Batista dictatorship, which eliminated any possible source of opposition, however slight it might be. Anibal Escalante, a prominent member of the PSP, was named director; in 1962 Anibal Escalante and his top aides were expelled from the direction of the ORI, accused of sectarianism; in 1963, the ORI replaced the United Party of Socialist Revolution (PURS), the antecedent of the future Communist Party (the only one) of Cuba (1965). The sadly-remembered UMAP, a shameful chapter in our history, occurred between 1964 and 1969: the censorship of the books Fuera del juego, by Heberto Padilla, Los Siete Contra Tebas, by Antón Arrufat and Lenguaje de mudos, by Delfín Prats, to name only well-known examples, followed in 1968. On March 13, 1968, in a speech to commemorate the attack on the Presidential Palace, Fidel confirmed the arrest and imprisonment of the microfraccionarios, led by Anibal Escalante, and announced the beginning of the Revolutionary Offensive, which ended, among other things, the small amount of private property that still remained. It was also in the late sixties that the purges began in the universities, the accusations of “ideological deviations,” etc.

In the following decades the problems continued, though not with such intensity and intolerance. I won’t do the recount, because many have already taken this on in the current debate, but what I want to emphasize is that the control on freedom of expression, the media, free association, etc., has maintained itself until our time, and not only in the cultural sector but in all sectors of society. ICAIC, an agency with a reputation for being liberal, is still deciding which scripts are shot and which aren’t, which movies are shown and which aren’t, just like they did with PM in 1960. The imprisonment of Raúl Rivero and independent journalists, in 2003, and other cases of censorship and restrictions that occurred “yesterday,” are proof of that.

It would also be unfair not to recognize all the undeniable progress made in this half-century of Revolution: no government set out to do so much for “the poor of this earth.” It brought education and public health to the farthest corners of the country (although the quality has declined considerably in the last fifteen years. I think disproportionate international aid is being provided to many countries; it has left the island without the doctors and teachers it needs, which has seriously affected the quality and quantity of these services – for the record, I think it’s a humanitarian and generous effort, worthy of respect and admiration, that all governments should exercise); important plans were developed for cultural, social and economic development; the Literacy Campaign was a success; schools and art institutes, libraries, museums, cultural centers, the National Ballet, ICAIC, the Casa de las Americas, etc., were founded.These seeds bore the precious fruits that we collect today.

Now, returning to the title of this text – which I don’t want to prolong any more – I would say that I have drawn attention to the statements of two officials who stood out during the “Five-year gray period”: Serguera and Félix Sautié (second to Pavón). Both have said (Serguera in an interview and Sautié in a letter) that they received and followed orders, like soldiers. According to them, they were not responsible for what they did, only the executors of the policy outlined by the “highest leadership of the country,” that is, the policy defined in 1961. We all know that this was and still is so. I think centralized power over the years has been the cause of many of the difficulties that we now suffer. I don’t doubt the good intentions, but the fact that there is no real discussion and debate in the bodies responsible for defining the government’s policy has not been beneficial for the integral development of the nation.

There is something that I’ve always held as an unquestionable principle, but I think it can be the cause of many of the ills that plague us (the double standard, apathy, laziness and skepticism of the young, among others): the existence of a single party (I don’t want my words to be misinterpreted nor to be accused of having an “annexationist agenda” nor of “aiding the enemy.” I simply express my opinion.) I remember one person who told me: “It’s true that Martí created a single party, but who founds a party and another one that opposes it at the same time?” The existence of a single opinion (for example, all members of the National Assembly are members of the same party) prevents the necessary flow of different ideas that are important for the “oxygenation” of the country and its organic development. The claims that this gives “arms to the enemy” and that “it’s not the time” have returned like a boomerang, and it’s the people who are left without the weapons they need to build, think and organize their country. In other words, silence has prevented the actual display of ideas and concerns of the people, the true exercise of free speech, debate, confrontation of opposing views, effective exchange and the enrichment of different opinions.

If the officials of the period under discussion were following orders, who gave them? Why did they if, as Serguera said, he did not even agree with many of them? Why was this type of behavior generated, to accept everything, to not question anything? Wouldn’t it be good and healthy to begin to change this mentality? Why not have a debate – not only on culture but also on the economy, education, public health – where these issues can be analyzed in depth, and we can begin to change what needs to be changed?

The international situation has evolved, the left has been reborn with renewed vigor in many parts of the world, and Cuba is again accompanied by numerous Latin American countries. I think, honestly, if you rethink a lot of things considered as immutable in our country, it would be an important step toward rescuing, protecting and keeping all the achievements – which are a lot – in these years.

Josefina de Diego

Havana, February 9, 2007

Another text from Josefina de Diego

Case closed

The “Five-year gray period” was a term used by Ambrosio Fornet to refer to the “grayness” of the literature written between the years 1971-1976, as a result of a policy of doctrine, suspicion and intolerance against the cultural sector, and the calls that were made by the highest political and cultural leadership of the country to develop an art that is truly “revolutionary,” something impossible to achieve starting from such narrow limits. Previously there had been a moment of glory – according to Fornet, a “Five-year gold period” – with Los años duros of Jesús Díaz, Condenados de Condado by Norberto Fuentes, Los pasos en la hierba by Eduardo Heras León (all published at the end of 1960), etc. And also – although I believe that Ambrosio is not referring to these books – with Celestino antes del Alba, by Reinaldo Arenas (1967), Fuera del juego (1968), by Heberto Padilla, Lenguaje de mudos (1968), by Delfin Prats and others. But when talking about the “Five-year gray period,” you’re also talking about the persecution initiated by Pavón and his followers against homosexuals, “intellectuals” and extravagant people, the “marginalization” of playwrights and artists in general, “ideological deviations,” etc.., a period which, as we all know, lasted much longer than five years.

Many people say “now it’s over,” that “it was a ‘bad cold” (according to the statements of Reinaldo González published by the newspaper El Clarín, February 13, 2007), that the “Five-year gray period” and the debate that occurred in January and February this year are now “a closed case,” to use terminology that the famous series CSI: Crime Scene has made fashionable.

I think that, indeed, many things have changed for the better, that the persecution of homosexuals has decreased and, at present, although there are many prejudices, now you can’t expel anyone for that reason from work and the universities. Even television itself shows programs that touch on this subject with great breadth and depth, as in the recent telenovela, La cara oculta de la Luna. It’s also true that there is a real opening and that subjects that would have been impossible to discuss are now being thought about and questioned (the proof is this debate). But I do believe that there are still serious limits on the true exercise of free speech, free association, free movement (not to mention other problems, very serious, in the area of production). Government officials still retain the right to decide what is ideologically correct or not, they still are able to grant or withhold permission to leave or enter the country where you were born. It’s still nothing more than a brake on freedom of movement and, indirectly, on freedom of expression (many people are denied the right to travel because of their political views). Cases of censorship of books, authors (who live in Cuba or abroad), documentaries and movies, etc., still exist and have occurred in this 21st century, not just in the “Five-year gray period.”

But they don’t accept this reality, nor do they want to recognize the errors and injustices that were committed. And if they don’t recognize, if they don’t point out the real causes, we cannot consider this a “closed case,” because, continuing the detective terminology, “the evidence” shows that there still remains much to be rectified. As Dr. Arnoldo Kraus says, in his book Who will speak for you? An account of the Holocaust in Poland.

I could continue enumerating examples, but right now there has already been a lot written about what happened in those last years.

I think many people would like the debate to be extended, so it doesn’t stay in the narrow context of the decade of the ’70s. It didn’t happen, although it’s good to recognize that up to now the views expressed through the limited space of email have been respected, and that, by all accounts, those who were able to participate in the conference on 30 January, expressed themselves freely. “From the wolf, a hair,” we could say, without much enthusiasm and little conviction.

Josefina de Diego

Havana, February 20, 2007

Translated by Regina Anavy

Message from Jorge Ángel Pérez / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

A further lapse in judgment just happened on Cuban television: Luis Pavón, one of the most frightful and terrible people in the history of Cuban culture, just received praise on the Cubavisión program, Imprint.

In those days when so many lashed out against “The Difference,” I suppose, I hope, that they also are pointing now to this nonsense that is so absurd, and please allow me the tautology.


January 6, 2007

Message from Jorge Angel Pérez to Sifredo Ariel

Of course, dear, I saw, with these eyes that the earth will swallow, the program Imprint, where that old man appeared. No one could believe, if you looked at his face, that he had left any mark. As we all know, yes, he left a trace, but it was unfortunate. I agree with you about the national awards or those who suffered from the “Pavo-Nato,” those who should speak out, testify, demand; but I don’t think, Sigfre, that we should be just spectators, critical observers or spectators who follow television. It’s true, as you say, we do not live in those times, but you, I, and many others of our generation know how terrible it was for them. And also how terrible another Pavón would be for everyone.

A kiss.
Jorge Ángel

Message from Jorge Angel to Reynaldo González

Rey, I’m still connected with this story, and I think that we shouldn’t let it slip out of our hands. The days can pass and in a few days we’ll have Ana Lasalle as the winner of the National TV Award and later, Aldana as president of the ICRT.

A hug.
Jorge Angel

January 6, 2007

Translated by Regina Anavy

Message from Jorge Luis Arcos / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

The recent events triggered in Cuba after the resurrection of Pavón-Quesada-Serguera, to wit, the many outcries of various kinds by email, articulating a common domestic front to protest the raulista attempt to clean their old repressive instruments, to whitewash historical memory, and, incidentally, to humiliate their victims once again, and in general, all intellectuals, if not also, incidentally, to warn that the nightmare could come back again, etc. This is just one more episode in a shattered reality.

Many of the reactions are negative, in spite of themselves. Some advocate that the problem be resolved in-house, as if a significant proportion of the victims weren’t outside Cuba. Others try to deny the obvious: that it all has to do with a strategy of power, as it was in the past and even in the present. Many are critical of what happened; they call for public atonement but, of course, without naming — before or now — the real culprits.

It’s simply incredible. It seems that a considerable part of Cuban intellectuals assume that the current regime will continue to exist, and they, inside the same, with their wide range of complicity, silence, opportunism, or even happy approval. Because even when they correct themselves publicly — which happened recently — that would constitute only a slight rearrangement within a cultural policy essentially subject to a totalitarian power.

It’s all very well to protest the resurrection of the image of that ominous past, but how do you live in the present with a regime that restricts all basic freedoms every day? Worse than forgetting the past, is to have amnesia about the present. Even the most honest critics of what happened show that in the present they themselves remain subject to some censorship, to a fear shaped by decades of repression. As if the terrible thing happened only in the past, as if this cannot be questioned in the present.

In any case, a great deal of conformism reigns.

They have, therefore, a relative civility, selective, pragmatic, opportunistic or conservative. They are afraid, in short. And it’s not bad because we all are, but yes they wield it only when they see the possibility of being affected again themselves, more than they’ve always been.

One of them gives an opinion about those who are on the right inside and outside of Cuba, giving the sense that he is on the left. But what “left” is it that does not want to recognize that the “right” has always been in power?

Well, I also was afraid, I also suffered censorship and especially self-censorship. I had to leave my country to enjoy the dubious privilege of being able to write this article without expecting retaliation, to be able to put in black and white what I really think without fear of losing my job, being kicked out of society, or even going to jail.

But, at least, let’s also respect those in Cuba who suffer a direct repression by the simple sin of saying what they think, and even also let’s respect those who have had to give up our country so we can at least sleep with a better conscience, if that’s still possible.

You who live in Cuba also deserve respect, but — like everyone — you will have to win that respect, either through acts or even silences and significant sacrifices, since how even can you be respected by the same regime that humiliates you every day with its diverse collaborations or selective and timely amnesia? How far can you play the game sincerely at being a reformist? Reforms, what for, to maintain the current state of affairs?

This is the crossroads. If current events do not make them see the obvious, that the regime has been essentially the same, then very little can be expected of a future “with all and for the good of all.” It’s very convenient to advocate that Cuban culture be united and suddenly forget the victims both inside and outside the country. Cuban intellectual friends, the game isn’t played like that.

Jorge Luis Arcos

Madrid, Spain

Another comment by Jorge Luis Arcos

I write the comments that follow (and I now quote Eliseo Diego) “with the melancholy of those who draft a document.”

Surprised by a language of the ’70’s, from Pavón himself, I read the recent statement by the secretariat of UNEAC. As for 10 years I attended many meetings of this secretariat — since in everyday life it became “expanded” so that different people could attend according to the issues under discussion or their responsibilities in UNEAC — I know more or less, after almost three years away, its members and regular attendees. But the Cuban population doesn’t. I have to admit that many of the discussions that take place there have nothing to do with the rhetorical language of the mentioned declaration.

Similarly — and this is perhaps the most important of all that has happened — in countless emails and in some publications outside Cuba, with an understandable passion, this recent phenomenon has existed, before which Cuban intellectuals inside and outside the island have expressed their necessary and healthily different points of view, of course in a very different way, both in form and content – as they say – regarding the document in question.

But also, apart from these passionate disputes or different claims or moving testimonies, something very profound must have occurred there, invisibly, I mean in the minds of so many people who have been affected not only by the pavonato (the so-called “Five Gray Years”), but also in many other circumstances and other times, some very recently. However, according to this declaration by UNEAC, it appears that the matter has been settled. To fail to remember, as one bolero says, again and quickly, that — as a Greek chorus a lo Piñera seems to say in the background — the Party is … immortal?

I have to admit that the mere publication of the text in the newspaper Granma is a rarity. But it seems that such was the magnitude of the unrest that it was almost inevitable to declare oneself and publish it. Yes, they wanted to repair to some extent the mistake, and, moreover, to cap it off, in one case indeed it was remarkable as what our country is going through now. But, as you know, the image is always the most important — the image for the outside and inside, as they say, too. And in the name of that image, truth, passion, memory, as well as the endless contradictions that are inherent to life … are buried. Although, it would be worth asking, for how long?

As for the publication of that unsigned pronouncement, it’s a very widespread custom in Cuba to produce documents “in the name of the population” (actually, in politics, everything is always done “in the name of”; I mean in the name of that abstract entity that can appoint itself as “our people” or “our intellectuals,” etc.), or to call for others’ signatures so as to show support for certain statements or measures.

Why didn’t they appeal, for example, to those mechanisms when they “deactivated” — a delicious euphemism, in which we are experts — Antonio José Ponte from UNEAC? Because then the management of UNEAC itself knew it couldn’t count on majority support even among its members. That is, they resort to those methods that suit them. What Wendy Guerra proposed was an interesting challenge. But even if what she asked had been done, driven by a basic democratic principle and a respect for individual, rather than collective, opinion, who can guarantee that once it happened, all opinions really would be known?

But that’s not even the problem: the problem is the lack of real democracy. It’s been so many years with no democracy in Cuba (over half a century) that very often we can say quite naturally that there is … Because much of the population has been born in a country without democracy. In any democratic society the varied opinions of Cuban intellectuals — I repeat, all Cuban intellectuals — would have been published or presented in different media — even by individual initiative — without a hint of censure.

In Cuba, unfortunately, that is unthinkable. But, even more, we already know the understandable reluctance to express aloud true opinions on any subject. On the one hand, we fear the so-called subtle reprisals, if not the direct ones. On the other hand, as with the now-legendary case of the call to the Fourth Party Congress, we know the futility. As a former work colleague warned on that occasion:

“The well-known argument to justify this lack of democracy is ‘Don’t give ammunition to the enemy.’ But the price of not giving ammunition or not playing to the enemy has been, strangely enough, to suffer an absolute lack of freedom — and the true” [gap in the original]

But was anyone really surprised with this innocuous statement from UNEAC? I think it was predictable in essence. What was not so predictable is the trite tone, full of cliches, not really fitting for the intelligentsia that is left in UNEAC. As Fefé says, what is this story of “annexation” but the purest rhetoric of the Roundtables and the so-called Battle of Ideas — doesn’t that say it all? To always disqualify an opponent or anyone holding a different view has been, as we know, a permanent practice.

But I express all these arguments, I confess, more from weariness or an infinite boredom. It always leaves a bitter taste, as if one lived an infinite postponement… ah, when life happens only once and is so short… After nearly half a century of authoritarian and anti-democratic practice, that is, theatrical representation, what can you expect really? The most bitter taste is experienced — at least that’s my case and I understand it might not be so for others — when at the end of the declaration they mention jubilantly the two people responsible not only for the pavonato but also the sad and complex history — with light spots, too, is their room for doubt? — of the so-called cultural politics of the Revolution. But that was perhaps most predictable. No?

As always, the people of Cuba are truly absent from all these representations. An undeserving people, to their rulers, still not knowing the critical opinions and testimonials of the so-called counter-revolutionary intellectuals, “enemies” or spooky “annexationists” etc. — “Get out, scum! Get out, fags”! Don’t you remember Granma in the ’80s, by the way, without Pavón? — or even the criticisms and testimonials — ah, memory, what a danger — of the considerate Revolutionaries?

I would like to be wrong, but in the end, sadly, this time, visibly or imagined (as Lezama would say), as in so many other cases, “there is nothing new under the sun.” So don’t worry, friends and Cuban intellectual colleagues, inside and outside Cuba, you can rest easy, because, at least for now, absolutely nothing will happen — visibly, I mean.

Jorge Luis Arcos


Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007

The Masochistic Left is “Pavonating” Itself / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Masochism is the “sexual perversion of someone who enjoys being humiliated or mistreated by someone else,” says the dictionary. Did the writers who now rightly denounce the official television revival of Luis Pavón, Serguera and Quesada actually enjoy it?

“Pick little fights, don’t try to be a hero,” the current director of the Cuban Academy of Language advised me one afternoon in 1997 in Mexico City. Are most of the protests against the resurrection of the deputy commanders perhaps following, with discipline, the morals of this picaresque warning?

Please, the impossible? — to finish with Sancho Panza. Except in one of the protesting jousts — by a talented storyteller — there appears not the slightest intention of judging the lion, nor the brother, by those who never publicly repented of perpetrating that National Congress for Education and Culture in April, 1971, after the disaster of the Ten Million Ton Harvest and the subsequent submission to the Moscow of scientific communism and socialist realism.

Critical thinking in 2007 by the same people who shut down the magazine Critical Thought and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Havana? Is it naiveté or fear on the part of some who today accuse the television — as totalitarian now as it was in the “black decade” — of complying with an order handed down from the Party. Is this similar to what happened then?

Will it be tacitly understood, implied? Let’s hope so … What is not clear or hinted at in the Aristotelian rhetoric of complaints against the media tribute to the supporters of Pavón is, simply, whether they have now lost the little faith they had in the Halls of Power. That’s what, apparently, eludes them.

What did Luis Pavón do before being named president of the National Council of Culture? Was he not perhaps the director of the magazine Olive Green, a cadre very near the absolute confidence of Raúl Castro? Who could appoint the former prosecutor Papito Serguera at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television? And by the way…

Ah, memory. I suggest a campaign to collect “perfumed love letters.” As I have not lost my memory — nor want to lose it — I remember clearly Fidel Castro’s speech at the closing of the Stalinist Congress on Education and Culture. The same contempt for intellectuals that the vice presidents show at the beginning of 2007: the proof flared up on the small screen.

I agree in general with Duanel Díaz’s article. Perhaps what is worrisome is not the posture of critics that some masochistics now assume, but the message that brings such resurrections with it. Is there another turn of the screw that has been sweetened? Will there be changes in the staff running the government’s cultural policy? Are we witnessing the resumption of blatant repression against artists and writers they consider dissidents? Are we done with being in limbo?

In any case….

José Prats Sariol


Translated by Regina Anavy

Message from Jorge Ángel Hernández / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

About the text “A little ashamed of ourselves” by Luis Manuel Pérez Boitel, in response to “The crisis of low culture” of Francis Sánchez.

My friend Riverón,

Although I consider friendship one of the gifts that should be defended at all costs, I also think that standards about things that happen in life, art and literature, should, if not considered equally, at least be ahead by a nose at the finish line. Quite often our personal discussions have raised the tone to the point that only friendship has stopped the harmful avalanche of blindness on both sides. I also value highly the grateful recognition of good deeds from others who are not exactly part of that small group of friends, even more those that honestly spring from the adversaries who have accompanied us on the same journey.

This long speech, that you know well, maybe with more humorous tones and turns, as I like to talk person to person, allows me to introduce, in this communication that already I’ve given permission for you to use publicly if you feel it necessary, an idea that, although predictable given the many anecdotes that I can relate as a witness, does not stop surprising me negatively:

I’m referring to the treacherous message that Luis Manuel Pérez Boitel circulated and in which he tried to insult you “considering that an editor at the head of a publishing house with which he began to reach his first little bit of prestige,” is obliged to assume, without any benefit of the doubt, the fair and deserved price of his pay.

I remember at that time our poet and anti-fascist fighter, not “litigious” as he says, (as a lawyer, knowing what the word means by which meaning you would have put in a cumbersome legal process that did not occur) but haggled over I believe with good cause, his fees, which were set at the amount he demanded, in my opinion unjust, much less than he would have deserved.

I know the details because I also saw a dodge that consisted in declaring that he didn’t agree with the price, and, from respect for the scandal and out of solidarity with Boitel, he settled for a meager sum, and I hope the copies of the contract may serve as further proof and challenge as well a search for any proof of a “claim.”

What he did was to lobby senior officials to press his demand for payment and talk about the incident to many, too many, people. I also remember how you assumed as your own problem that he could attend the award ceremony for the poetry prize, which he won in a closed vote in the Casa de las Americas contest, news he received a few hours before, and how you pledged both your institutional influence and your personal courage as an intellectual and editor at a time when he was the subject of satirical gossip in much of the country.

I assumed he was grateful for these efforts, happily accomplished, even more upon hearing himself reclaimed — during the meeting, or encounter, that we had in the Villa Clara UNEAC with Iroel Sánchez and Omar Valiño, that is, the “duo of the Party,” who took the trouble to talk to us about what was happening around what I named the “Pavonazo” phenomenon at work — that attendance at the awards was definite and that the Casa de las Americas, naming Jorge Fornet as the irresponsible person, and careful of saving the “diplomatic decency” of Roberto Fernandez Retamar, had failed to inform him the following year, once his book was in circulation, about “What his role would be in the activities of the award,” and that they would not offer him any support.

That said about your commentary “Eating from the new-born turkey” (“pavo” — turkey — is a play on “Pavón”), which now seems so suspicious to him and about which he did not issue any opinion even though we were provoked to do it during those conversations. That attitude confirms that the title of what was written by Francis Sánchez continues to be accurate, since it confused the low cravings for the role with the lower passions and culture is something mean in the most Marti concept of the term. And although perhaps the overwhelming majority feels that he justly deserves not even the honor of the insult, the basic instinct of my low passions requests a retribution.

So, friend, on behalf of those dishonest and opportunistic intellectuals with a double standard, that like the dreadful English of Neruda we still hate, in virtue of what appears unthinkable “to take them out of circulation and credit” I ask you for an apology. I am ashamed that such a fight broke out in the midst of a moment that in my opinion is crucial to the cultural destiny of those of us who continue deciding to build from within.

A hug, and no antidepressants.

Jorge Angel Hernández

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007

Messages from Belkis Vega / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Belkis Vega, a Cuban filmmaker

Hi, Gustavo,

I am grateful that you sent me the debate. I don’t know how to get involved in the analysis but I think that I need to.

If you can, send this opinion to whoever you want.

Although I have to confess that I find it difficult to express myself and to organise my thoughts in this form, I don’t want to not do it as I think that the TV’s resurrection of those ideas that we thought were dead demands a reaction of repulsion. I want to add my thoughts to those who have offered their analysis so far. There have been some profound and well-argued reflections, and it’s important that they don’t end here.

I was studying design when Pavón was president of the CNC and Armando Quesada was head of Teatro y Danza, and I remember perfectly well the tragedy of the “misfits” and the almost total destruction of some theatre groups, just like the censorship in the field of literature. I lived the period up close, involved as I was in university TV, as one of the screenwriters and assistants for the TV program,”6:30 pm”…These “orientations” had a cultural character with relation to the treatment of art and literature on TV, with personal comments added by Papito Serguera.

I will never forget the impression almost of conspiracy that one felt when reading Lezama or Dulce Maria, the sad memory of meeting Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz spending hours in a cubicle of the National Library explaining to you that they would consider you as ideologically divergent because you liked the Beatles and not Casino or Mozambique, the possibility that your friends would snub you in the street or that they would make you lengthen the hem of your skirt to attend school.

Someone told me that some months ago Armando Quesada was working in television, and I didn’t want to believe it. Now he is resuscitated as a main character on programs along with Serguera and Pavón. I didn’t see the programs, but what I have heard here is enough for me.

I think that it’s really unfortunate, and more than unfortunate, worrisome.

I think we are in an internal ideological confrontation between Marxist and revolutionary thought versus thinking lacking any intellectual interest, demagogic. So I also believe that the debate should not remain only in this exchange of mail. As Zenaida says, it’s time to raise our voices so they hear us.

Belkis Vega

Another message from Belkis Vega

Looking at the past from the present. I think this has been a first for the greater part of us Cubans who have been participating in this debate.

For as long as I can remember I have been hearing the same paralyzing phrase repeated over and over: “This is not the time, this is not the place.”

How many of us say in our defense that to be revolutionary is to be someone who transforms, someone nonconformist and critical. We have also allowed ourselves to abandon the hope of this time and place that never arrive. And always for the supposedly noble and unifying but also paralyzing end of not giving arms to the enemy; without taking into account the fact that the paralyzing status quo is a very efficient arm.

It occurred to me again last week when I tried — naively? — to bring up some of the worries that we are exchanging about the theoretical debate that was developing in the Festival of Television.

It happened that it was neither the time nor the place.

I now think that many of us are not prepared to hope for more. I think we’ve lost many things in this waiting, our life has been in this waiting.

I remember that during the most critical years of the Special Period, a friend told me that they would have to ask every Cuban, man and woman, if they wanted to continue living in Cuba, and if the answer was affirmative, to give them the Party card directly. It seemed to me a very sensible idea.

I think the majority of us who continue here have proved over and over that we are interested in the social project of the Revolution; in its most ample meaning, as a humanist project that tries to recover and defend human dignity and develop a society that satisfies the growing needs of its men and women. This appears elementary, but many have forgotten it. Our society is not perfect; none of us are either. It’s essential to speak of errors, to assume them, reflect on them and try not to repeat them.

I’ve always questioned who has the right to decide who are the guarantors, the censors or the classifiers of what is or what is not revolutionary.

It’s very simple to look in a dictionary and remember the definition of “revolutionary.” Sheep are not revolutionary. Men and women who act like sheep would never have assaulted the Moncada Barracks. To propose this, you have to want to transform the world. It was necessary to dream big to assault the sky.

I read the writing of Colina and reviewed the list of Cuban films that were not shown on TV. I remembered also how many of the film-makers who started to direct in the workshops of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz in the ’80s are not here. And I remember my recent sleepless nights when I tried to find out why the analytical, reflective and critical works of some of the young Cuban film-makers wouldn’t remain in a show, so that those young people would find their space in our Cuba — the one for all Cubans — and they wouldn’t have to search in other latitudes like so many do.

It hurts me, it lacerates me. I don’t understand the politics of exclusion.

Knowing errors, analyzing them, learning from them. To be nonconformist, to want to be better, to criticize the bad in order to amend it, to respect and take into account differences. Is this “not revolutionary”?

A few months ago a Miami TV channel showed part of the documentary, “Divers, Lions and Tankers” by young Cuban filmmakers who attend the ISA. This documentary had been recognized in some festivals in our country and selected by critics as being among the most significant films made in 2005. Channel 41 TV in Miami had a manipulated discussion of the content. The film’s director wrote to the station saying that he considered this manipulation a violation of his rights. Many people in Cuba learned from the comments about this show in Miami that this documentary existed, and they have tried to see it, but the documentary is not displayed publicly. It circulates underground. Something similar happened with the fictional short by Eduardo del Llano, “Monte Rouge.” And with other works; these are just two examples.

And I always wonder if it is not much more beneficial to bring these works to a public debate. Display them on TV, have a panel where the creators of the works can discuss views with journalists and others. In short, are we going to continue postponing the controversy over our reality, which we live every day, until we get a right time and right place that never appears?

There are many works made within the revolution by Cuban artists and writers who are HERE and who have every right to have their own voice and to call attention to aspects of our reality to those who SHOULD find a solution for themselves.

Criticism, self-criticism, jumps from the quantitative to the qualitative, unity and the struggle of opposites, these words and phrases now sound like Martian to many in our country.

Where have the principles of dialectical materialism gone? Which now our young people aren’t even studying.

Nor has the fall of socialism in Europe made me think that Marx was wrong in his formulations. History has proven that it is much more complex to apply Marxism to everyday life than to theorize about it. But out of curiosity I would like to know how many people in our country today know what characterizes a society as socialist. Any of us at any time can be exposed to questioning by some officials who flaunt the right to classify what is revolutionary or not, and who confuse dogma with being revolutionary.

It is no secret that all this generates self-censorship, and I think we all have self-censored a lot. There are battles we’ve won when we’ve defended our work and our positions in a brave, energetic manner, with solid arguments. The examples Colina gives, referring to the film Alice in Wondertown or the refusal of the directors of ICAIC to be unified with the ICRT, are proof of that.

The polemics should come out of our emails. I think it’s fundamental to find a way to publicize these debates and open up participation. I think the analysis of the Five Gray Years that has begun here and that will be deepened with the Ambrosio Fornet conference and the subsequent exchange should serve as a starting point for taking back our own history, moving forward and finding many ways here and now where we Cubans can reflect on our reality in order to transform it.

Belkis Vega

Reflections provoked by the “affectionate” letter written by Paquito de Rivera for Fefé Diego.

Some people would be better off shutting up…

And I’m not saying that because of intolerance, much less because I don’t respect differences in thinking.

I say it simply because I think it’s better to be quiet when you don’t know how to express your thoughts coherently and with respect for others.

It really hurts to confirm such a great contradiction between musical talent and the ability to express ideas with a minimum of argument and depth.

Some years ago I was at the International Film Festival of Miami, exactly the year in which the festival bravely decided to show Fernando Pérez’ film, Life is to Whistle, with the possible punishment of losing part of its funding for showing the work of a Cuban “over there.”

After the films you could attend a jazz concert at a hotel, I think it was the Sheraton. So there I was, ready to enjoy the musical talent of Paquito de Rivera and imagine my surprise to hear him tell distasteful and vulgar jokes about the situation of the child Elián González, whose family in Miami did not want to send back to his father.

Never in Cuba did I hear Paquito oppose UMAP or criticize Marx or question the socialist definition of the Cuban revolution.

As much as I’ve tried, I cannot remember any “brave” position Paquito de Rivera took against the terrible things that according to his list have occurred in our country.

I don’t even remember if he tried to criticize the Stalinst stage of the USSR, nor if he dared to criticize the terrible things that happened around it.

It seems in that epoch he assumed the same attitude as the rest of the Cuban artists and writers “who so irresponsibly have supported such a bloody regime,” according to him.

I don’t know, then, what bravery he’s talking about. Or his bravery is to insult in a public letter an exceptional musician like Carlos Santana for deciding to wear a t-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara.

I also never knew that a guy as brave as Paquito de Rivera opposed the invasion of Iraq or protested the lack of attention given to the victims of Katrina. Or perhaps he felt worried about Africa. It’s more probable that all that seems okay to him.

I agree with Boris Iván that it would be better if he used his head for musical scores since it would appear that language is not his strong point. Perhaps if he had remained in Cuba he would be capable of reasoning and writing in a more consistent and less vulgar manner.

However I do remember other voices that raised questions in the time of that stage of Cuban culture that has been the object of debate these days with the participation of many Cubans from here and there.

Some voices are more timid, others stronger. There were not many, there were not enough. But there were voices.

As there also have been voices at other times that, for example, supported the performance artists of Street Art, the filmmakers of Alice in Wondertown or Guantanamera, and the actors of Manteca, when these artists and their works were questioned.

Luckily there are more voices participating in this analysis of part of our recent history, which is so necessary. And by luck this debate has motivated the participation of people with different positions and opinions.

Of course something very important is missing, and it’s the opening up of the debate outside the circle of writers and artists who have email.

Now I know, Paquito, that you don’t know who I am nor what I do.

I also know that with this letter I’m exposing myself to your insults.

It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that now the only important thing is to tell you that, luckily for both of us, I’m not interested in being your buddy.

Belkis Vega

January 25, 2007

Translated by Regina Anavy

NOTE: Belkis Vega is a Cuban filmmaker.

Letter from the New Man in Defense of the Gang of Three / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

For more information about this series of posts, please click here.

From “The New Man”

Dear comrades, close comrades,

Those who now warn us, memorializing the life and work of Papito, Pavón and Quesada, instead of ridiculing them as flunkies, or treating them as model sacrificial snitches from a gray period of our history, should raise a monument to them, the highest.

Because those who vent against them today, in the name of our moral purity that, don’t forget, is also unreal, also epic, if they have any glory, that which they say fits into a grain of sand, they owe it to them.

Neither the most vigorous combatant nor the most ferocious adversary has contributed so exactly disproportionately to my creation than Papito, Pavón and Quesada, who, with their dauntless imprint, converted me into the most perfect historical construction of the people.

I am the most exact result of this now excessive dialectic process of the middle century. And when I say “dialectic,” I’m referring to the custom derived from the contradiction, the struggle of opposites, antagonistic or not, although preferably of the first, the most drastic conservatives, because with their defeat they make irreversible the evolutionary, historic processes, creating the collective conscience that sweeps them away from the future, to not be negative examples, unrepeatable, although irreversible,

Papito, Pavón and Quesada are, without a doubt, part of this pattern. But also those who inject a memory of the institutionalized terrorism, at the state level, the mistrust (mutual and self), the paranoia, the fear of the Other (whether it’s myself, my tortured conscience), that which is not (in so far as being ontological, that’s good, but fundamentally ideological) the same as I, someone similar. The fear of otherness (Jiminy Cricket, leading you on the right road) was not aroused or undone with/by the dirty work (hidden, secret, clandestine) of Papito, Pavón and Quesada, but above and beyond their “Five-Year Gray Period” it extends, was extended and – if we don’t do something today – will be extended, as it menaced with all awareness and allusive capacity, poetic, let’s say, from the “small screen”, the administrators of our power.

Yes, Gray Period paranoia aside, it’s frightening to see that, when they were buried they managed to (dis)simulate themselves in the tomb, where some of us go to lie, to create unarmed defenseless, specimens that appear (we might wish) extinct, they emerge from the silent obscurity of forgetfulness, upon emerging from the back of the small screen (that’s to say from banality, nothingness or The Difference, which is the summit), as a sample demonstration of media proof. Papito, Pavón and Quesada have complied with the cause to which one day they swore to dedicate themselves, subordinate their lives for, at all cost, repressing them, extolling values, contrasting them, excluding them. Omission doesn’t work, not even with them.

Those who saw them on TV comment that, simply seen and not doubting it, I add, they didn’t seem repentant, one of them even said that nothing tortured his conscience. They gave no indication of reviewing their bad steps, those who from their intrepid trenches of mistaken ideas, intolerance and premeditated errors, some treacherous or coldly calculated (while drinking cold beer, on the Patio of the Cathedral, according to what they tell me), working overtime into the wee hours with the delight of a goldsmith, gave me the master touch, the finish.

It’s not paradoxical to say that with their excesses Papito, Pavón and Quesdad stopped delineating at least my contours, extracting me from the utopia of that time, up to achieving what I am now, or we are. In their eagerness, in order to accomplish unthinkable renovations, in a process of reaching the high dream of being a different human, united in solidarity, utilizing the method of standardizing society, they contrasted it so much that they opposed me, at least like a paradigm, trying to institutionalize in place of man until then sacrificed, worker, conscious of his revolutionary role, that I was blindly obedient, which formerly giving one’s all for an ideal accepts as good constitutional violations, the alienation, disposal of human rights and the installation of dogmas and prejudices, the most diverse exclusions like rational, honorable, and valid social behaviors.

So that I, the idealized, monotonous, intangible new man, after passing through the filters of the numerous Papitos, Pavones and Quesadas, generalized in every social sphere of the “Five-Year Gray Period,” have materialized into the youth and adults of today: writers of merit (whether they’re gay or not, who cares anymore), obscure musicians of the music stand, or precious stones in tune with April, modern dancers or not so much, Moorish boleristas or Mountain-man soneros, half sorghum or full sorghum, drunken or blurred jugglers, broke or with cash, with trim haircuts with little lines shaved into the sides, mop-hairs initiated into Santeria, protestant christians, salty, with too much on their plate or salty, with no plate at all, plumbers, bricklayers, shoemakers working (for themselves or on the black market), painters of little boats, escapees on a raft, bakers without oil, deserters of salsa, those of the rains-on-roofs or even though you know that later you’ll be going, improvisational singers of desperate rural music, ex-cane cutters, we give them posts and we relieve posts, the thieves on the bus, the transvestites of Reina and other artists, because we are all them, we have to make art or crafts under certain circumstances called “special,” which during that “Five-Year Gray Period” – which has not died out, like a good fire provoked – converted them into their appeasing victims or systematic opposition, many of them equally broken and not claimed…

In the end, at the vertical level of our society, all owe it, we all owe who we are to the “Five-Year Gray Period”, when by virtue of the laws like those of vagrancy, the centers of work converted themselves, instead of centers of material production with the goal of benefiting the people, into centers of inflated production, subjective, abstract, of rehabilitation.

Yes, we, the new or repaired men of today, if we apply to everyone the double standard that we owe to the Papitos, Pavones and Quesadas and company (they weren’t working alone, of course, they had lackeys and even figureheads, so as not to say hit men), all the dignity that now they proclaim, we proclaim, a proclamation coming from the e-mails that we interchange, with no little hope of victory, which we are owed, in place of ridiculing them (inquisitorial manner of saying “skinning” them) or putting them again on the public pillory or pouring on them so much earth that they appear dead, to show them our most profound recognition, and raise them to the highest peak of Mt. Turquino, of The Havana Libre Hotel, an unforgettable monument to tedium, with one entry per turn and for heterosexual couples, of course, as God ordered in the ’70s, but paying the hardy cover in Convertible Cuban Pesos, the same as now, in these years of 2000, just as God has decreed that we all pay.

Sincere greetings from

The New Man

Translated by Regina Anavy and Los Iguanitos

January 31, 2007

“Consenso“ in the Intellectual Debate / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

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From Consenso digital magazine

The digital magazine “Consenso“* is putting at the disposition of its readers a portfolio which contains almost all of the texts that were circulating via electronic messages among numerous Cuban intellectuals in the months of January and February of 2007, and which comprise a historic virtual debate about Cuban cultural policies of the last 48 years.

As is well-known today, everything began when the young writer Jorge Ángel Pérez sent a message expressing his surprise and disgust at the Cuban television appearances of various personages who, in the 70s, were responsible for one of the darkest periods in national culture. Almost immediately the essayist Desiderio Navarro, the art critic Orlando Hernández and the writers Antón Arrufat, Reinaldo González and Arturo Arango joined the debate using e-mail that circulated among hundreds of addresses inside and outside of Cuba.

The portfolio we show here contains a hundred or so participants, many of them with more than one message sent. Messages appear from inside Cuba, those which arrived from overseas, those signed by relevant figures, and those subscribed by persons unknown, where pseudonyms were not lacking. There are texts, photos and caricatures; there are the academics and the passionate and from there, those of all participating positions. The sources have been diverse; from the Granma newspaper to the digital magazine Encuentro on the ‘Net, but fundamentally we have received generous help from friends who have passed to us messages received by them.

To ease searching, each participant occupies a page with all his messages organized chronologically and on each page the reader will have in sight a dynamic index in alphabetic order through which he can access the rest of the participants.

We beg our readers that if they discover they are missing messages to please send them to our mailbox: and, more importantly, through our pages please give continuity to this debate, for nobody definitely has considered its conclusion a given. This portfolio will stay open as long as the problems posed are not solved. The digital magazine Consenso inaugurates with this debate its portfolio space in which — in free (gratis) form — we will open a space for those who desire their own.

* Translator’s note: Consenso translates into consensus. In this case it is the title of the publication being referred to, not consensus in its literal state.

Translated by: JT

January 31, 2007

Concern About the Media Comeback of Luis Pavón / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

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From Jorge A. Pomar

Are the intellectuals waking up?

Everything in Cuba is as rotten as in Hamlet’s Denmark. It all stinks. Even the Horaces of the UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) stink. Yet another proof of this is the electronic call to arms just emitted by Desiderio Navarro in Havana as a result of the unexpected resurrection of Luis Pavón, once powerful, if not all-powerful, President of the National Council for Culture, via the programme Impronta (Imprint) on Cubavisión. Auturo Arango and Reynaldo González have already broken a lance on his behalf in what has become a promising campaign. Whatever the objections of those of us who are not on the inside — and it will be seen that mine are many and forceful — we should not only welcome the initiative of the combative as ever Desiderio, but also support it wholeheartedly, heaping fuel on the fire of good faith; that is, with the intention of forcing them to draw conclusions and see themselves as others see them.

But it is no less true that the arguments made leave a lot to be desired. Which is partly explained, of course, by the risk that they are running by sending such a protest on the Intranet. What is not easily explained is what can be inferred from their captious arguments, the implications and underlying meanings derived from their words.

According to all three — who have signed up to the ideas of the so-called ‘criticism tsar’ in Cuba, Ambrosio Fornet — Pavón and a couple of minor civil servants (among them Lisandro Otero, who they are careful not to mention as he is currently fashionable in the vile on-line literary magazine La Jiribilla, but he was Pavón’s second-in-command) were responsible for an unfair cultural policy (1967-1971), now happily left behind. In their eyes, with the public reappearance of Pavón the shadow of the Leviathan of the ‘Pavonado’ can be seen again, threatening the freedom (?) of the ‘true’ creatives.

It is a version of the tale of the noble king applied to his majesty Fidel Castro, who in half a century has never shown signs of acknowledging the corrupt actions of his evil ministers. In fact, the ‘silence and passivity of almost all of them’, the ‘complicity and opportunism of many’, which Desiderio puts in brackets, are still characteristic of the attitude of the Island’s intellectuals today. The troubles of writers and artists did not finish in 1971, as Fornet would believe, or have the rest of us believe.

Pavón, who was certainly no angel, he has been the favourite scapegoat since 1971 of those who, rightly or wrongly, like to think of themselves as his victims. It would take a casuistic analysis, a task in which I have no interest, to determine the role that each played then, or plays now. However, Pavón’s offence consists, no more and no less, in having been the figurehead, the instrument of the Revolutionary Government which carried out mercilessly the cultural policy of a Revolution which the members of the UNEAC applauded, and still applaud in their show of protest — rapturously at a time of jails bursting at the seams and firing squads overburdened with work. Those ‘plentiful 60’s’ of which Desiderio speaks were, in fact, the cruelest years of Castro’s rule.

After swallowing all this rubbish without complaint, after condemning like Cain colleagues who fell from grace every time they were asked to do so, and above all, living rather better than the great unwashed thanks to the subsidies in dollars (now CUCS) of the UNEAC, likewise the prizes and the trips abroad etc., I fear it will be sufficient for the charming (with the literati almost always) “comrades” of State Security to give them clip round the ear, if they haven’t done it already given the gravity of the situation, for them to start to walking crab-wise again. It would be a pleasant surprise for me to discover that I am wrong. Clearly, they do not feel any guilt, educated Little Red Riding Hoods from the story of the good king, constantly misinformed. however, their greatest merit in the end of the Five Gray Years (which is now a “Dark Half-Century”) has been to live with their backs to the national drama, shut in their ivory towers during the three ashen decades of the wolverine Pavón.

On the other hand, they know very well the price of protest. That’s why, out of an instinct for self-preservation, they have never dared do it. When, to take one example, in 1989 I protested about the upcoming execution by firing squad of General Ochoa and his company during a plenary session of the UNEAC, they all responded with silence. “You’re crazy! and immediately, by order of Abel Prietrio, who was chairing the session they moved on to the matter which really concerned them: How to pick up a few dollars making some artistic or literary contribution to the then resurgent tourist industry?

Willingly or by force, far from supporting it, they signed the UNEAC’s 1991 official protest against the Letter of the Ten, a range of moderate reforms which attempted to reduce the misery of most Cubans. In contrast, they didn’t oppose the execution in 2003 of those three young, impoverished black men, who were only trying to get away from the paradise famed in so many poems and tales. And of course they kept very quiet about Raul Rivera and those condemned in the Black Spring. The list of their public silences (in private they sometimes dare to express their condolences), complicities and collaborations could go on indefinitely.

Why not, then, give Luís Pavón, who in 30 years could well have reconsidered and be a different man, the benefit of the doubt? Any court would consider his crime “spent”, and in any case, no life was lost. Not so the pristine Reynaldo González, who makes no bones about bringing up the “Nazi Holocaust of the Jews”. Incidentally, anticipating a possible return of the ‘perestroikist’ (let’s not forget, please) Carlos Aldana, he encourages the fear that “the tough guys” might return. Reynaldo, get this for once: “the tough guys”, with a healthy bunch of opportunists and social climbers of all kinds, now have a stronger than ever grip on power and “among the indolent curled up at their posts” the more intellectuals gather, the more they keep their heads down. Not all of them, of course. Quality counts too.

The “Cuban intellectual field”, Arturo, has not “become over-complicated”; rather it has been corrupted to the core. The “luck of the revindicated blacks”, and of those who demand nothing, is still as black as their skin. On the television they are only given roles as slaves, guerrilla fighters and beggars; in real life they are forbidden access to management posts in the dollar economy. Ask “Ambia”, who I heard tell the story again in a video filmed in his lovely Parque Trillo. Homosexuals have made some progress but, outside the world of culture, they are still stigmatized. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. The “belligerent right” and “passive pragmatists” you speak of, what are they, if not the eloquent result of the “success” of the current culture policy? Give them their full names, if you would. As for the rest, no one thinks, or disagrees, “from the left and from the revolution”. It is good enough to do it with the brain, which is divided in two hemispheres for a reason.

To state that Fidel, with his sadly famous “Words to Intellectuals”, was trying to dispel the fear of “those creators who are neither revolutionaries nor counter-revolutionaries” (Desiderio mentions Heberto Padilla, whose name he doesn’t use, as it’s taboo) seems to me if not an act of political procurement, at least an extravagant piece of deliberate nonsense. It’s laughable. The leitmotiv of this speech, plagiarised from Mussolini by the way, leaves no room for doubt: “Within the Revolution, everything; Against the Revolution, nothing”. Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato, declared Il Duce on 28 October 1925. Translate. You’ll remember, nostalgic Desiderio that, after listening to Fidel in the Function Room of the National Library in June of 1961, Virgilio Piñera took the floor and mumbled, “I am very much afraid. I don’t know what I am afraid of, but that is all I have to say”:

And so, if our ineffable ‘creatives’ protest now, about this televisual trivia heavy with bad omens, it’s more because of their simple professional selfishness. The privileges and cash benefits which, in order to keep them onside, their cultural paymaster Abel Prieto has granted them with the blessing of the Great Leader. The suffering, the deprivation, of the vast majority of the population, doesn’t seem to matter to them in the least, outside the world of literary fiction. Although we know that, inside, they too suffer, From bad conscience.

The television programme given over to Pavón does, at least, break the routine of the usually yawn-inducing schedules in which an important place is given to the self-promotion of the victims of that bête noir of Cuban culture. At last something worth seeing on Cubavisión, among all the usual ritual, triumphalism, creole tradition and 19th Century art! Even though it’s just to work up some alarm, like Desiderio and company. Alarm that I share, since it is very clear that behind the grandiose demands of Pavón lies the hand of the Raulist generals. Bad omens for art during the approaching handover of power. With all this, as far as I’m concerned, I would consider it acceptable as long as it ended the misery of the population and, above all, doesn’t last longer than the biological clock of the Castrist old guard. Art can wait. That’s how direct and right-wing I am.

Besides the reservations I’ve set out, I shall not hesitate a moment in supporting a protest that, although it strikes me as timid, wet and confused, could be the trigger for a far-reaching political and ideological debate. My respects to Desiderio. Congratulations! Our intellectuals have to start somewhere. In the end it might be that minimalism works better in politics, which tolerates it more, than in literature, where it requires higher levels of excellence. If only this unpleasant media event might serve to waken the intellectuals from their long, Sleeping Beauty-like, slumber, and give them courage to include all Cubans in their fair demands and, using their energy for nobler causes, finally start to play their proper role in an Island that is at the most important crossroads in its history, but doesn’t appear to know where it’s going. About time. Now we must hope they don’t disappoint yet again.

Jorge A. Pomar


Translated by: Jack Gibbard

January 2007

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

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 Journalist Reinaldo Escobar Enters the Debate / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

“The Little Email War,” “Little Glasnost,” “Rebellion of the Intellectuals” or “The Created Situation,” have been some of the names used to baptize this phenomenon which I prefer to call, “words of the intellectuals” (with the “of” in bold and underlined). Evidently a hole has been opened in this Pandora’s box (which was a gift from Zeus himself), where it is not the evils that populate the world that are escaping, but rather the outrages committed against freedom of expression.

I promise not to use this space for personal complaints, in the first place because I feel a profound gratitude to those who, in December 1988, banned me from practicing the profession of journalist. To them I owe my freedom, which I exercise from Cuba, although sadly not in the media permitted in Cuba.

As it is not possible to answer, argue or support each deserving idea, because that would imply writing a book, I will limit myself to giving my opinion about what I believe is fundamental in this issue, which after all is not, not even remotely, the appearance on the small screen of those who once were the obedient adherents of a policy. What seems to be clear to everyone is that there are open wounds, self-criticisms to make and discussions to foment.

I can understand the horror of the newly vindicated, faced with the renewed vindication of their executioners; what I cannot seem to understand at all is the simplicity of confusing the systemic with the causal.

Just like a bus that is already full, those who are already on the first step of the discussion ask to close the door because there isn’t room for anyone else, but those of us who are left behind, those who here are below, we think differently.

I believe that the basis of all the wrongs that have occurred is the intolerance of difference, which is not limited to the nearly defeated intolerance of different religious beliefs, or to the repudiation of different sexual preferences. I am speaking about the unconquered intolerance of diverse political opinions. I would like to know on what general principle we can build tolerance for one particular kind of diversity without applying this to other kinds of diversity.

Since that fateful day in which the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution was subjugated to a sectarian phrase — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — the abyss opened. Because from that moment a group of people were conferred, or conferred upon themselves, the right to define the boundaries of what could be catalogued as revolutionary, meaning what could be published, shown and disseminated. And since the creators of literature, painting, music or cinema usually fulfill themselves when their work becomes something tangible for the public, they begin the create in that direction and there begins the self-censorship; because there is only one way to be sure that what we do cannot be classified as “outside of the Revolution,” and that is to do only that which is clearly for and within the Revolution.

That gray five-year period was only the act of drawing the dividing line a few meters closer to the border. The original sin was to conceive the border.

Some of those who are participating in this discussion are not disputing the right of the government to decide whether to publish a work based on its political affiliation. The only thing they are contending is that they and their work should be considered unwavering supporters of the Revolutionary line. Others want to go further, which is why, in this debate, many things are being discussed at the same time.

Víctor Fowler, with his habitual lucidity, introduces the idea of a “catalog of practices of cultural violence.” All of the anecdotes fit into this catalog: prison for the translator of the prophecies of Nostradamus, the famous Padilla case, the firing of Eduardo Heras, the sanctions against Norberto Fuentes, the ostracism of so many illustrious names: Cintio, Eliseo, Lezama, plus the endless list of the unknowns, as always, who in obscure cities of the country defiantly read a combative poem in a literary workshop session or who, in a provincial radio broadcast, dare to introduce an uncomfortable song by Frank Delgado. The question is how far do we take this list, and if we should pay attention to those already on board, who are shouting to close the door once and for all so the journey can continue, or if we should continue letting more people get on until the bus bursts.

Who gave the order to close the expositions of the group Arte Calle? What should we call the decade in which they banned Pedro Luís Ferrer? What color was the five-year period in which Antonio José Ponte was expelled from UNEAC? Who was the Minister of Culture when the movie “Monte Rouge” was blocked from being shown in the Cinema Festival? What, if not “The Black Spring of 2003,” should we call that moment when the poet Raúl Rivero was imprisoned?

Esteban Morales himself, former dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, classifies as “Saturn devouring the children of the Revolution” not just subordinates of Luís Pavón, but militants of the Communist Party who, in the seventies, carried out relentless purges in the school of journalism, and who today publish in the daily newspaper, Granma, and no one bothers them.

And all this is being discussed today perhaps because some advisers in the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) who work on the program Impronta [Imprint] are just historians versed in the 19th century and wouldn’t know who directed the National Culture Council 30 years ago. I wonder what would happen if, as a part of “50 Years of Victories,” someone were to recount the exploits of Hubert Matos in taking the city of Santiago de Cuba, or if someone who does not know the secret versions of the story, speaking about the events of Granada, would mention Colonel Tortoló as an emulator of the Bronze Titan. I bet that nobody would ever make the mistake of making a Impronta episode about Doctor Hilda Molina, however much she deserves it.

What really happened is not that one day it was mentioned to someone that it deserved to be buried in silence, but just the opposite; it’s that it has been too quiet for too long, and not only in the area of culture. As the critic Orlando Hernández has bravely pointed out, “It would be very sad if all this fell into the ridiculous Complaints and Suggestions Box at the Ministry of Culture, or if it were converted into a minority’s collective catharsis.” I believe that the criticism or self-criticism remains unresolved not only in the case of the First Culture Congress, which changed its name in its second session to become the Congress of Education and Culture. The Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the repudiation rallies of the 1980s, the unmet Food Plan of 1990s, the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, and the infinite lists that so many victims could rightfully assemble, are also in need of a self-criticism; to do otherwise would make it very difficult to honor someone on television without running the risk that the person interviewed would have another “imprint” in his illustrious biography.

Not only revolutions, but also history in its entirety, is staged by men who,in carrying out the projects they put forward, experience successes and failures, greatness and baseness, nobility and villainy. Cuba’s is far from a celestial history, though many have insisted on sweetening it. It seems as if once again someone has tried to marry us to a lie and to force us to live with it, but fortunately, someone also has taught us that it is better to let the world collapse than to live a lie.

I don’t want to finish this intervention without referring to the cryptic Declaration of the Secretariat of UNEAC, published on Thursday, January 18.

To say that the cultural politics of the Revolution, established with those Words to the Intellectuals — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — is irreversible, is to affirm that Luís Pavón did not manage to reverse it and therefore only was consistent with it to an extreme degree. In that we are in agreement. What I cannot agree with is the element of terror the text introduces with the mention of a supposed annexationist agenda on the part of those who have wanted to take advantage of the situation created. I call on them to show a single paragraph of the debate with the stink of annexationism. Although it is suggested that this is the consensual response of the debate’s initiators, evidently it is a text that Leopoldo Ávila would proudly sign.

I propose a full debate on all these matters. Since UNEAC — the Cuban Writers and Artists Union — has decided not to hold its proposed congress, now that the Communist Party of Cuba has not held its either, we will do it ourselves in a theater, at the ballpark or in the middle of a field, without the rapid response brigades to impede its meeting, and where the entire world can speak, the communist, the social democrat, the Christian democrat and the liberal, and if the annexationists have something to say, we will listen to them also.

Finally it seems healthy to me that those of us who participate in this discussion do not share a common position. We are not going to repeat the model affirming that “this is not the moment to have divergences among ourselves because we should unite against the common enemy.” Much less will we proclaim something like, “Against the reign of Pavón everything, for the reign of Pavón nothing.” Please, let us not start in the same way. Fortunately, like Pandora’s mythical box, the only thing that hasn’t escaped is hope.

Reinaldo Escobar

Translated by Ariana

January 31, 2007