Cuba and Culture Under Siege

Fernando Ravsberg*

International Book Fair, Cuba, February 2015.  Foto: Raquel Pérez
International Book Fair, Cuba, February 2015. Foto: Raquel Pérez

HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago, the International Press Center Director “reprimanded” me because, in a news report, I had revealed that the baseball documentary Fuera de liga (“Out of Our League”) had been censored on orders from the Ideological Department of the Communist Party.

The documentary was banned for five years for committing the sin of interviewing a number of “deserters” then playing in the Major Leagues. The director, Ian Padron, announced this week that he is leaving Cuba because he’s “tired” of having to deal with these absurdities.

The news saddens me but it doesn’t surprise me. For years, I’ve watched the country lose many young talents because of the intransigence of certain power sectors, where ideological extremism combines with ignorance.

Through social networks, I have also just found out that writer Wendy Guerra was excluded from Cuba Book Fair activities, despite the fact her literary works have made her an internationally renowned figure of Cuban culture.

“Some Latin American writers are surprised they don’t invite me to take part in literary debate panels in my own country, when I’ve sat next to them in other parts of the world,” Wendy tells us over coffee.

Filmmaker Ian Padron announced he was leaving Cuba, tired of so many obstacles.  Photo Raquel Perez
Filmmaker Ian Padron announced he was leaving Cuba, tired of so many obstacles. Photo Raquel Perez

Her books enjoy so much success abroad she has been translated into 13 languages, but Cuba still refuses to publish her novels Todos se van (“Everyone Leaves”), Nunca fui Primera Dama (“I’ve Never Been First Lady”) and Negra (“Black Woman”), the story of Celia Sanchez and her experiences with racism.

Wendy recalls that one of the first people to censor her was the blogger Iroel Sanchez, back when he was the Chair of the Cuban Book Institute. She adds that “censorship is a reaction against the initiatives of Raul Castro, who is now demanding a more critical take on society.”

She believes it is not merely a political problem, that the lack of culture among officials responsible for defining what is permitted and what is not is a significant factor. “They should be sent to study contemporary art, and not only at a Party school,” she tells us.

In Cuba, the press and culture are controlled by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party Central Committee, which is headed by an army colonel. This entity has the “right to veto” any cultural or journalistic production in the nation.

“We are the result of what they taught us at Cuban schools,” the writer says, adding that “now, we should send these officials who keep watch over culture to study so they can interact with those of us who are producing cultural products with a bit more wisdom.”

In her view, there is “much misunderstanding”, a tremendous lack of information in Cuba, where officials always suspect you’re lying to them. We’re no longer living in the hardline days, when you could be put in jail for saying something, but the fact is that you don’t really know why they refuse to understand what you’re saying.”

Cuban writer Wendy Guerra has won the Brugera Award, El Pais’ Critics Award and the Carbet des Lyceens. The French government granted her the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres distinction. She is also a member of Bogota 29, a group composed of important Latin American writers. Photo: Raquel Perez

In the meantime, “I maintain a kind of adulterous relationship with my country. I stay in the shadows, because I can’t live in the full light of day. I’ve never been threatened but, if I were a bit neurotic, I would say they threatened me with silence and that, despite that, I continue to hear voices in that silence.”

“I don’t believe I should complain because I wasn’t invited to the Book Fair. My response is to continue writing. The greatest thing that happened to Lezama Lima was shutting himself up to write, at a time when very few people visited him, because visiting him meant a State Security interrogation.”

“I won’t leave Cuba because my family and my friends are my country. What’s more, I don’t want to have a long marriage with capitalism – I don’t think it would work. I don’t like seeing a 50-year-old woman be evicted from her home because she can’t pay the bank.”

“Cuba is my problem because it is my country, because I didn’t spend my childhood in Madrid or Paris – my pain and my grief isn’t there. [In those cities] I can’t knock at a neighbor’s to ask for salt or get them to go with me to the doctor. Dying in Cuba will be a dignified end for me.”
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

7 thoughts on “Cuba and Culture Under Siege

  • You seem to imagine that before capitalism, all the people of the world were well fed and had access to free education & healthcare, until the evil capitalists arrived and stole it all. Nobody died of starvation or disease in your Never-Never Land, a “Time Before Capitalism”, an anarchist Eden.

    The fact is capitalism has increased the general wealth of the entire world and raised the standard of living of billions of people. All modern medicines and vaccines were invented, manufactured and distributed by capitalists.

    The agricultural revolution based on fertilizers, intelligent irrigation and mechanized farming has increased the world’s food supply by several orders of magnitude. Today, the world feeds far more people than was thought possible a hundred years ago. The world wide web and the computers we use to communicate here at HT, were invented, manufactured and distributed by capitalists,

    Your ideological cousins in socialism, the Marxist/Socialist/Communist dictatorships of the USSR & China, (which were fiercely anti-capitalist systems, contrary to your misconception of economics), used the denial of food and mass famines as strategic weapons to crush opposition to their utopian ideologies. Tens of millions were murdered by these intentional famines. Fortunately, these evil states were defeated by capitalists. The anarchists avoided culpability for these State organized murders because they lacked the organizational skills of Stalin or Mao, but not for lack of motivation or ideological justification.

    The utopian anarchists would strip away all that capitalism has created, destroy the wealth of the nations and plunge the world into a new dark ages. Hundreds of millions of people would die in famines, because your anarchist friends cannot manage a bake-sale let alone a modern nation state.

    To avoid acknowledging the inevitable outcome of your utopian fantasy, you indulge in wishful magical thinking. You imagine we are on the cusp of some powerful technological revolution which will somehow produce all material needs, and provide the necessary intellectual creativity of a modern society, by the mere flick of a switch. The need to do the hard work of discovery, invention, organization, production and distribution will be lifted from our shoulders and carried out by some magical network of supercomputers.

    You are deluded. We cannot return to Eden, because Eden never existed in the first place. We have to do the hard work of living in reality. Humanity will continue to struggle, to learn, to create and to solve problems, for as long as humanity exists.

  • Okaay ,
    I have you down as supporting a system that kills millions of children every year because they lack the money to buy food and medicine which is directly the fault of the means of distributing the food etc that is created on the planet.
    That means is FEC ( free enterprise capitalism ) which has been enforced worldwide by the Empire for some 100 years .
    I wish I had a dollar for every person whom I’ve heard say ” Well, it’s not perfect but it’s all there is.”
    That position is , of course, complete bullshit because no other system has ever been tried .
    State capitalism such as practiced by Communist Party-led societies is still capitalism, where someone at the top decides where the production and profits go and not by the democratic majority.
    IMO, if you believe that democracy can’t work, and that is what we are talking about , then your position is morally fucked up to begin with and you need to reassess your humanity.
    Your thinking that the past few hundred years of capitalism and the state are prologue also would indicate that you don’t understand that they are unnatural ( undemocratic/selfish ) systems for humans who are, by nature, mutual aid thinkers such as was human existence for the previous 99,000 years .
    Read Kropotkin’s ” Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution. ”
    See what we humans really are like absent the morally corrupting forces of the state and capitalism.

  • Wendy Guerra’s comments in the last two paragraphs reflect the miseducation many Cubans share about the real world outside of Cuba. Coupled with a fear of real competition, these Cubans have been indoctrinated to believe that ALL forms of capitalism are cruel and heartless. When I visit my in-laws in Cuba, I always field comments about how “frio” people outside of Cuba are and how there is no help available when needed. Yet, the reality is quite different. The Castros have had three generations of building the ‘straw man’ of capitalism. But if Wendy Guerra would prefer to die in Cuba, I support her 100%.

  • Well said.

  • The only doubt that exists is whether the Castro regime and its elite are willing to really change.
    Free enterprise capitalism as practiced in so many countries would be a lot better than the totalitarian socialist system as it would bring a decent life to more people.
    Not all “capitalism” is the caricature of exploitation and Dickensian social injustice as you often try to describe it.
    Capitalist systems are by far more likely to be democratic than socialist systems. In fact: no country that professes itself to be “socialist” is a real democracy.
    Lots of democracies have capitalist (mixed capitalist) systems. Capitalism does not exclude a role for the government in the provision of social goods.
    Western Europe is a good example.
    In the final analysis it is indeed only true democracy that will set Cubans free. That by definition means an end to the “socialist” system and the introduction of a more free capitalist inspired system.

  • “Would anyone care to support the totalitarian free-enterprise capitalism that has impoverished half the planet ?”

    John: I am happy to be first on that list.

    It is not perfect but it is ahead of any realistic alternatives. Of course you can create some impossible alternative in a dream world. But we live in a real world.

  • There is a serious question as to whether Cuba either can or will make the transition to a democratic/socialist society when and if the U.S. ends its historic hostilities toward the people of Cuba.
    But we will never know if the government of the United Snakes does not end their war and remove any excuses the totalitarian government now validly wields to justify their undemocratic ways that are in direct conflict with their self-professed and so-called communist ideology.
    The last two paragraphs the article could just as well have been written by a huge majority of the Cuban people, many of whom support their government and the revolution mainly because they hate what the government of the United States is trying to force down their throats by starving them out.
    There is no question that Cubans totalitarian forms are bad but reverting to free-enterprise capitalism (FEC)will only be worse.
    Democracy is the answer to Cuba’s problems and the world’s problems .
    and FEC will create worse problems and can never be the solution to what ails Cuba .
    Would anyone care to speak against democratic economies and governments ?
    Would anyone care to support the totalitarian free-enterprise capitalism that has impoverished half the planet ?
    You cannot sit on the fence in this .
    You are either for democratic forms or you are for totalitarianism ..

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