The “Casa” Prize / Fernando Dámaso

Each year, the Casa de las Americas prize calls writers and essayists from Latin America and the Caribbean, in their various forms. As in all years, the works presented, in addition to having been previously rated with regards to their literary quality, are passed through a political-ideological screen, before being presented to the different juries; this prevents any inconvenient work from winning an award, when the results are announced. The fauna on the journey is quite varied, though there is a common denominator: to be an anti-imperialist and, at least flirt with the continental left.

This year, a well-known author and essayist, a friend of some anti-democratic characters, and a character himself in one of the chapters of the Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot, has become a perfect historian: in a display of clarity and brilliance, he has suggested that the discovery of America did not happen on October 12, 1492, but on April 28, 1959, when the cultural institution Casa de las Americas was founded in Cuba. It has also been said in this land that Cuba exists from January 1, 1959. These digressions are common in some of our distinguished visitors and natives, in order to get along well with the authorities, but without doubt it was this one hand or, as we say in good Cuban, squeezed.

It seems that, a demand for being a juror, besides those already mentioned, is to “break lances” in favor of a national model and it’s outdated followers. Without this there is no invitation, no shelter, no published interviews, no dinners, no tourism in Cienfuegos and, even less, prizes, because the works should be anti-imperialist and deeply Latin America, although after being published (the year after being awarded a prize), was only read by some few snobs, and not going beyond common citizens, mostly interested in other subjects, closer and less bright. Something similar happens with the magazine Casa, its old battle flag, that publishes only one issue a year, so indigestible with its dense content, and its thick and antiquated format.

The institution, at first comprehensive, tolerant and democratic, has increasingly become an exclusive and dogmatic institution, a government sounding board, a club of former retired rebels, ready to sign letters and supporting statements and editorials against real or imagined enemies, to entertain themselves recalling past glories and giving each other mutual praise, as well as publishing each other’s works, to the delight of themselves. It happens that the Casa prize, like many other things, is also in urgent need of updating.

January 24 2012