The Intellectual Debate
[This article originally posted on TranslatingCuba.com in July 2014]
In January and February 2007, a series of texts circulated through emails among many Cuban intellectuals. Coming to be known as “The little war of emails,” or “The Intellectual Debate,” these emails formed a virtual historic debate on Cuba’s cultural policies over the previous 48 years.
The email exchange followed the appearance on several TV programs of Luis Pavón Tamayo, Armando Quesada and Jorge Serguera, all of whom were closely involved in designing and enforcing the rigid cultural parameters that negatively affected so many writers and artists in Cuba in the 1970s, a period that came to be called “The Five Grey Years” although it lasted longer than five years: a longer discussion and other links are here.
A contemporary article by Dalia Acosta, CULTURE-CUBA: Exorcising the Ghosts of the Past, discusses the Intellectual Debate in English.
It is important to remember that in 2007 Internet access was extremely limited in Cuba, including access to email. Hence, much of the debate took place among Cubans in the diaspora who had normal access to the Internet.
The digital magazine Consenso collected this email debate and posted it in one place. Translating Cuba is working, email by email, author by author, volunteer translator by volunteer translator, on an English translation. Hopefully the entire body of communications will be translated, providing an invaluable resource to observers and scholars of Cuba, working in English.
The following text is a translation of the Introduction to the Intellectual Debate posted on the Consenso website.
Introduction from Consenso website
As is well known, it all started when the young writer Jorge Angel Perez sent a message expressing his surprise and displeasure at the appearance on Cuban television of several people who, in the decade of the 1970s, played a leading role in one of the darkest periods of national culture. Almost immediately the essayist Desiderio Navarro, the art critic and writer Orlando Hernández, and the writers Antón Arrufat, Reinaldo Gonzalez and Arturo Arango joined the controversy by sending emails that circulated among hundreds of addresses within and outside Cuba.
The portfolio shown here contains over one hundred participants, many of whom sent more than one message. Appearing here are those who wrote from within Cuba, and those who joined in from abroad, the signatures of leading figures as well as those of the unknown, along with no shortage of pseudonyms. There are texts, photos and cartoons; they are from academics, the passionate, and people from every side. The sources are varied, from the newspaper Granma to the digital magazine Encuentro en la red, but fundamentally we have received the generous help of friends who have passed on the messages they received.
To facilitate searching, each debater has a page with all of their messages organized chronologically, and from within each page the reader will be able to see a dynamic index of the other participants, organized alphabetically by first name.
A note on the translations
[2022 Update: The translation effort is ongoing and is nearly done. TranslatingCuba.com will post the complete set.]
These translations have been prepared by volunteer translators working through the HemosOido.com cooperative translation site. These texts are, in many cases, written at least in part in the “formalized” language of intellectual debate. They also include numerous references to people and events not introduced or explained here. And, of course, they are rich with “Cubanisms” and playful use of the language. All of this is a huge challenge to our volunteers, and we are all doing “the best we can.” We welcome comments, corrections, clarifications. Please consider these translations no more than a “rough guide” to the debate, which certainly merits the skills of professional academic translators; hopefully one day that, too, will come to pass!
That said, there are many who have questioned why we are even bothering “to translate these old emails no one cares about.” Because WE care about them and think they are an critical resource for a broader understanding of Cuban history, and, in particular, the history of what will ultimately be Cuba’s transition to a 21st century democracy.