Cubanet, Angel Santiesteban, Havana, February 20, 2018 — The first stage of the Havana’s “International” Book Fair, which this year was dedicated to Chinese culture, has ended. Perhaps it would be better to say it was dedicated to the three or four Chinese individuals who have been tasked with traveling the world, extolling the dictators who govern the “Asian giant” and exalting its tyrants.
The Havana Book Fair long ago lost what little sparkle it once had. It used to be an event at which, for a few days, people pretended the work of the country’s authors mattered. More than a few writers actually believed the forum was about them. For a few days each year colleagues from every corner of the island embraced each other and talked about their projects, a few days when the crafty military convinced them it respected their space and were keeping their hands off the event.
But the day came when the real writers disappeared and it became clear that it was the Army that controlled the fair, that it was Raúl’s forces who decided who got the best exhibition booths and the most desirable time slots. The regime has shamelessly turned the fair, and of course its books, into a joke. Political rhetoric dominates, along with green-clad buffoons sporting epaulettes and stars. The fair has become a circus in which the military presents books carefully scripted by its servants.
Today the release of any work by a real writer is conditional. Now, more than in years past, editors must juggle whatever money is left over after the publication of all the titles those in power demand. Only then will they know how many authors might be able to have a slim volume showcased at the fair. And almost always the writers will be those who comply with the state and its military.
One of the fair’s greatest absurdities was the presentation of the book Raúl Castro and Our America Nuestra América, a collection of eighty-six speeches by the Cuban head of state. The book was compiled by a certain Abel Enrique González Santamaría and presented by Eusebio Leal — Havana’s official historian and a man of great notoriety within the halls of power for his exalted language — who acclaimed the work and recounted its history. As expected, he praised the brothers Castro left and right, earning him the applause of a room filled of soldiers and government loyalists.
Among those present was Alejandro Castro Espín, the most powerful of Raúl’s children. It was clear how proud he was of what Eusebio said about his father, that he felt like a prince who, through blood connections, will at some point determine the fate of the country. This was perhaps the most significant of all the presentations, the one that required the skills of the entire security apparatus, the one in which Eusebio — the man who undoubtedly saved Havana’s historic city center — got the key role by being the most loyal of the Castros’ “brown nosers.”
In a country where battlefield rhetoric is prevalent, Eusebio stood out. Those who heard him were as ecstatic as rats at the sound of the Pied Piper’s flute. Eusebio spoke of Raúl as if he were God. However, this should not be surprising for a man who was educated in the Church but who later became loyal to the communists, though not without sometimes ridiculing them of course. But it is not just words that matter; one also has to prove oneself on the battlefield, especially in the area of sexual conquest, of which the macho men of the armed forces are so fond.
It was not long ago that Eusebio was doing the same thing with the late Fidel. But then, without missing a beat, he understood the moment had come to do it for Raúl too. I suppose Leal, like everyone else, knows Raúl has an inferiority complex and perhaps, along with Colonel Alejandro, he decided to raise the general’s self-esteem. So here was the historian, playing his greatest role, with a speech that grew, that rose, as though he were flying a kite. Leal, a man who very much likes history, wanted to make it very clear to us: “The king is dead; long live the king.”
Everyone understood and was grateful that his words reaffirmed the authority of the boss. Then came the hugs. First those of Alejandro, the general’s son, who has more power than any of the army chiefs scattered around the island. Culture minister Abel Prieto joined the waltz, all too ready to embrace. But Eusebio thought that this tall guy with his mundane hair style was not what he needed right then. So with cameras rolling, he left Prieto standing there, his arms outstretched. Rather than embracing, he patted the minister’s raised shoulder a few times, as if to say: “Boy, behave yourself and let me work.”
Another “crucial” event was the appearance of Fidel Castro’s grandson, who recently lost his father, Fidel Castro Díaz Balart. The latter’s mysterious death* has triggered a number of suspicions, including a possible murder carried out by that part of the Castro clan that now holds the real power.
Thus ends the latest Havana Book Fair, which will now travel to the provinces in the exact same form. It is unlikely to change in the coming years until it is turned over, as it should be, to the writers, especially to those who express themselves freely, regardless of the consequences.
*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro Díaz Balart, the eldest son of Fidel Castro, is reported to have committed suicide on February 1, 2018. He had previously been treated for depression. The report of his suicide by the Cuban government was described as “unusually public.”