Havana Debate Space Exclusion

Isbel Diaz Torres

People were prevented entry into the building (10/29/2009).

The alarm felt by Cuban intellectuals was not unjustified when they witnessed the reappearance of the ghost of Luis Pavon Tamayo on national TV in 2007. The philosophies and practices of that connoted censor continue to expand today among officials of the Cuban State.

Pavon was one of the leaders of the process of “parametration” that affected wide sectors of Cuban cultural life in the ‘70s.  Censorship and the exclusion of artists, workers and students for their political, religious or sexual preferences were made the order of the day.

What is surprising is a recent experience that I along with other comrades suffered at the entrance of the Last Thursday forum, where the logic of those “gray years” was reproduced.  In this monthly setting of debate organized by Temas magazine, officials of the Cuban Institute of the Art and Film Industry (ICAIC) arbitrarily impeded the access of around a dozen people into that facility.

The person who seemed to be at the front of these officials was an individual who “coincidentally” was also named Pavon. The blunder of this “doorman” reached such a point that they denied entrance to even renowned figures of the Cuban intellectual world. Among them stand out the writer Edel Morales and researcher Rodrigo Espina; these two important intellectuals were verbally assaulted and threatened with physical violence.

For me it is clear that I, as well as the accredited foreign press and the rest of those who were prevented entry, had the same rights as those distinguished personalities; I only emphasize those two cases because what occurred portends to threaten the stability of this engaging space for public debate. The situation takes on an even worse light when we learn that Rodrigo Espina was also the brother of one of that day’s panelists (sociologist Mayra Espina), and he himself has been on the Temas panel.

It’s happened before

This is not the first time that something like this has happened; by my accounting it’s the third such occasion (though there could have been more).  The call for participation that is always issued by Temas explicitly states that access is free.

People sitting on the stairway that divides the space (10/29/2009).

The invariable argument that they have used on all these occasions is that “the facility is full.”  However, such a statement is highly imprecise.  What actually occurs is that all the seats are occupied.  In those cases, people usually remain standing in the wide space that is available or seat themselves on the steps of the small stairway that divides the space in two.

During my long wait at the entrance I received information from friends inside confirming that space was available. Yusimi, a friend who also had to wait outside for a lengthy period but who was eventually able to enter, later reaffirmed that when the debate was underway there was enough space for the five people who had been left standing at the entrance.

The saddest part of this spectacle was when comrade Pavon —who after having concluded his work, returned to our group outside the gate, where Espina still remained— invited us to fight; this was the height of the abuse and violence.  With us being so near to October 2, International Day of Non-violence, we dismissed the invitation. The teachings of Gandhi are too valuable to be tossed in the garbage over some misinformed agent.

In addition to such occurrences outside, we found out that our friend Ramon Garcia Guerra was denied participation on the panel. It’s quite symptomatic that a libertarian socialist was openly excluded in this way. The invitation to participate had been extended to Ramon publically in an e-mail that was copied to several people after having been sent to him by Rafael Hernandez, the magazine’s editor.

What is truly worrisome is that they are transforming the useful space for discussion and debate that Temas represents.

Note: The photos are from a similar Temas Last Thursday forum held in October of last year.

One thought on “Havana Debate Space Exclusion

  • Whenever there is a problem, Rafael Hernandez travels, avoiding responsibility and keeping his appearence of open minded intellectual. Rafael Hernandez certainly sent a sarcastic message to Ramon inviting him to speak at the panel . Struggles for democratic socialism must be the duty of intelectuals committed with the future of the country, but traveling less and receiving fewer privileges than Rafael Hernandez.

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