‘Purged’ from a Cuban Arts Association

Osmel Almaguer

The Asociacion Hermanos Saiz (AHS) arose with the objective of uniting young Cuban artists and creators into a single institution that would guide their steps, help organize their cultural activities and promote their work.

It aimed to encourage everything that was supposed to be within the limits of the revolutionary artist.  The organization, which helps to advance the intellectual growth of its associates, wound up serving as a prelude to joining the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

The AHS was first called the Brigada Hermanos Saiz in homage to two brothers killed in the 1950s while engaged in revolutionary activities.  The organization adopted that name in an epoch when each street, school, dining hall or organization in the country was given the name of a hero of the Revolution.

With the beginning of the new millennium, I joined the ranks of the AHS.  Starting from that moment I was able to learn something about its history, though the principles of its operation continued to be a mystery to me.

A few days ago I was notified of having been kicked out of the Asociacion following a “purification” process carried out by the previous administration; it seems that my removal had actually taken place a year ago, but without me having been informed.

When I showed up at the “La Madriguera” (the AHS provincial office) with the aim of clarifying the matter, what first struck me was the state of confusion reigning there.  One problem was that they had classified me as a person who had been living in Mexico for five years doing his doctorate, though this couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

In addition, I received two versions about my situation from two different functionaries.  One asserted that the expulsion was due to my not having paid my membership dues, while the other claimed that it was based on some supposed estrangement on my part from the activities of the Association.

Both were true to some degree, though as I’ll explain, they ignored certain facts that should have suggested the need for certain considerations toward me.

Yasek Manzano, right, with Wynton Marsalis in Havana. Photo: www.cubarte.cult.cu

In the first three years of my affiliation I acted as the coordinator of the Association in my municipality – all this without being paid a dime.  For two years I collaborated with their online digital magazine Esquife, and though in the recent period I’ve maintained a certain distance from La Madriguera, the fact is that I was never called to could participate in anything else.

The other detail that points to a certain injustice emanating from this institution is the fact that almost no associate pays their dues, not even the most senior officials at the national headquarters; however only a few people were subjected to “purification.”

The word “purification” makes you think of the elimination of contamination…of pollution…of something dirty.  That was the term they used.  Though the current administration approached me woefully to communicate what had happened, I strongly feel that they too were involved in the purification process.

As I said previously, I don’t know the principles behind the operation of the AHS.  However, what happened since the beginning of the millennium is a subject that I was very much associated with, to the point of my having suffered it in the flesh.

Other known victims of purification have been the talented trumpeter Yasek Manzano and the writer Aymara Aymerich.  It seems we were subjected to “purification” without a basis because the constant turnover of personnel in staff positions at the association often makes officials appear out of nowhere, without grounding or knowledge of preceding activities and practices.

In other words, due to the incompetence and/or ignorance of some functionary, important young figures of Cuban art and literature have been dealt with like contaminants.

I don’t know a single organization in the world that gives marching orders to its most illustrious members, yet the blindness of certain Cuban institutions does in fact make this “miracle” possible.