A River, a Book and a Lynching Attempt

Osmel Almaguer

In the Cuba of the 21st century, there occur events fitting of medieval life. Photo: Luigi Chiesa, wikimedia.commons.org

Although it sometimes seems unbelievable to us, still today, in the Cuba of the 21st century, there occur events fitting of medieval life, an age when scientists and women with uncommon features — under the suspicion of heresy — were persecuted and burned at the stake.

There isn’t anyone accused of witchcraft in the Matanzas neighborhood of Union de Reyes.   Everyone is practically free to express what they think, thus daily rumors take place, with “gossip” traveling from mouth to mouth like in any small town or province.

Some of those stories were recreated by Maylan Alvarez, a journalist and writer who recently won an important award for a book of poetry in which she made known the lives of her fellow townspeople.   Now, due to their surprising reaction, she is in risk of being lynched.

People accused her of being an opportunist, of bringing to light the personal matters of local families much too lightly and of profiting from them.  On several occasions she was in danger of being strung up and had to go to another municipality and temporarily move in with relatives.

Notwithstanding, the community’s anger extended to her family, with her father becoming a victim of an “act of repudiation” that came close to ending in violence.

I had the opportunity to read some of the poems in the book, and a friend told me about what had happened.  At no time did I sense any intention of taking pleasure in other people’s suffering.  Rather, I saw it as a pretext to speak about pain, an opportunity to transcend a reality that is also Cuba’s.

I had never heard any like this.  I think that the appropriate institutions should offer a little support to this young woman, and in passing help those people who will fill with regret when they discover that Naufragios en el San Andrés (the title of the book, which alludes to the river in the town) is not offensive but instead pays homage to the lives of the residents of that region.

Taking the proper measures, this chapter could turn out to be — after a prudent amount of time has passed — very healthy for the writer’s career and for literature in general.