The Silence of Cuba’s Lambs

Dariela Aquique

Pedro Pablo Oliva and one of his works. Photo:

I admit it, I’m a fan of the cinema, but my aim here isn’t to talk about the well-known film with memorable performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.  I want to talk about the acquired vocation as lambs, from years of trembling in silence.  And silence is what Cuban intellectuals have guarded in light of recent events involving the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva.

Once again like lambs they make it undeniable that the fear of words is like some sort of pandemonium infesting almost all the residents of this island.

It caught my attention that in 2007 the online magazine Consenso made available to its readers a portfolio containing almost all the writings that came out in January and February of that year by numerous Cuban intellectuals taking part in a virtual historical debate on Cuban cultural policy over the preceding 48 years.

This was undertaken after the surprising appearance on television of several characters who in the 1970s led one of the most dismal periods in our national culture (what is called the “Gray Five Years” or the “Dark Decade”).  That TV program was immediately followed by hundreds of e-mail messages circulating inside and outside of Cuba; the voices of essayists, art critics, writers and others were added to the controversy.

These people were indignant over the presentation on a program called Impromta (which promotes the most outstanding individuals in the nation in the areas of culture, arts and sports) of Luis Pavon Tamayo.  This is the person who during his control of CNC (the National Culture Council) earned the miserable nickname “Pavonato” for his outrageous actions, as well as his dogmatism, mediocrity and “practices of cultural violence”* that characterized the machinations and style of authority that Cuban intellectuals fell victim to during those years.

People raised their voices to repudiate the slightest recognition of those who were responsible for “parametracion” (parameterization) and what obviously cost the positions of many artists and professionals, who were relegated to humiliating tasks.

According to the intellectual Ambrosio Fornet:

… the theoretical foundation, which served in 1971-72 to establish the “parameters” applied in high-risk fields of work (such as teaching and especially the theater…) reached the conclusion… by a commission of the Education and Culture Congress, when dealing with the issue of the influence of the social medium on education, in its ruling that… “Cultural resources cannot serve the framework of the proliferation of phony intellectuals who seek to convert snobbery, extravagancy, homosexuality and other social aberrations into expressions of revolutionary art…”

It could be that the readers don’t understand the reason for resurrecting those years and the attitude of intellectuals when registering their repulsion of everything that took place back then, with now not taking a stand either for or against the measures taken against the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva.

It’s very simple.  By no means will I touch on the issue of why Oliva was expelled from the Provincial Legislative Assembly of Popular Power, where he was a member; that’s a political issue.  I will refer to how pressures were indirectly exerted and well directed to cause the closing of his studio-workshop.

This center was a generator of life, art and culture.  It provided the people of that sad province all the information and spiritual enjoyment that the established institutions of officialdom had been unable to provide (and nor will they be able to).  A hard blow has been dealt to culture, but today no one is saying anything.

How naive or how conservative this idea is of blaming one or two people for all the wrongs during those years.  Pavon was only a name; he completed his mission.  The decisions will always come from above.  If the international community puts a little pressure on then they’ll change the tactics and put in a new face to lead the “new mission”

Yesterday the motives were the “social and cultural education of the people,” which meant anything created by homosexuals would have to be reconsidered.  Today a different pretext is used; now, if an artist has ties with the media of cyber-dissidence and its ways to sharing culture with people, then that activity must cease.

The fact is that they’ve always had an excuse to engage in swordsmanship.  They have to fight, it’s necessary to annihilate everything that gets off track.  Herberto Padilla was obligated to read a pathetic mea culpa monologue because his ideas didn’t take communion with the established ones for the revolution.

Reinaldo Arenas and many others were condemned to ostracism and proscription because their orientation didn’t take communion with the image of the new and perfect man of the revolution.  Oliva is questioned and reviled presumably because his words and friendships don’t take communion with the revolution.

The same risks

It doesn’t matter what moment it is, the fact itself doesn’t even matter.  Everyone has something in common if they’re in opposition with the official decrees.  They run the same risks.

Those persecuted yesterday are today awarded, now the reason has changed.  Perhaps many of those intellectuals who are enjoying their status as national award winners believe they don’t run any risks at all.  They’ll say, “My story is different; now they don’t persecute maricones (“fags”), only dissidents.”

Nevertheless, if tomorrow they were to give an interview to an “imprudent” website or had any type of relation with a presumed enemy, official reprisal would drop on them and their books would again say good-bye to being published and their works would cease being publically represented.

That’s why I don’t understand this silence in the case of Pedro Pablo Oliva.  It seems different, but it’s more of the same.  From this came the analogy with the film The Silence of the Lambs.  In it the recurrent theme was fear, and because of fear no one took a stand.  The young protagonist in the movie was tormented by a trauma with lambs, just as Cuban intellectuals and artists show themselves to be lambs when they fail to play a leading role and prefer to remain silent.


* Phrase borrowed from the writer Anton Arrufat in his writing in “Consenso”


Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.