Cuba’s Silent Gatekeepers

By Maykel Paneque

Illustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — For the last few months, I’ve been troubled by a suspicion – or a fit of paranoia if you will – which has been confirmed by what’s been going on recently. This paranoia has been taking shape, it has become an increasingly persistent presence ever since Fidel Castro died, something which brought about the Government/Communist Party’s instinctive measure of closing its ranks, not giving way to the slightest lax in the law, as we would say here in Cuba.

A trending phrase, which has various forms, worries me greatly, not to mention it frightens me a great deal. This hot phrase – you don’t know how long it will last – proclaims “We are Fidel” and “Fidel is the people” as an absolute truth. And it worries me because I’m not Fidel and I’m not the people. Or to be more exact: I’m not Fidel, nor Raul, nor a clown. I was born in Cuba, I live here of my own accord. And that’s that.

If those who are responsible for coming up with official slogans to then spread them around on posters had consulted me, they would have been clear about what I thought from the beginning. It annoys me when they speak for me when I haven’t even opened my mouth. Assuming that we all think the same is not only unreal or the subject of a comedy, it’s clearly an insult, a presumption which I find extremely hard to accept sitting down.

However, my paranoia, or my suspicion, or something which could become true at any time – God knows when, it’s only a matter of time – comes from another direction, although essence continues to be Fidel Castro, more specifically his intervention in 1961 under the name “Words to Intellectuals.”  He gave the speech at a meeting with writers and artists which, as soon as it was printed as a historic document, established the dogma of how to analyze art in the immediate future of the Revolution. The legendary phrase “Everything with the Revolution, nothing without it” introduced censorship and intellectual ostracism which, from that moment on, still continues to hold weight in Cuban culture.

The heirs of this dogma have taken their fanaticism to such extreme levels that they now consult the document, especially the immortal phrase, half a century later, as if it were an arts bible.  And this is where my suspicion has come from. Over the past few months, I have been watching who makes up the juries in national literary competitions and the fact that many of these contests place somebody responsible for filtering information that goes beyond the established parameters or underhandedly attacks something which shouldn’t be awarded.

The heirs of this dogma have taken their fanaticism to such extreme levels that they now consult the document (Fidel’s 1961 words to intellectuals), especially the immortal phrase, “Everything with the Revolution, nothing without it”, half a century later, as if it were an arts bible.

I have got in touch with some writers and more than one of them has begun to call me paranoid. I would like for all this to remain a suspicion, in me seeing ghosts where there aren’t any, but I still don’t understand why some of the heirs of Cuban “socialist” dogma are the presidents in one competition or another.

These silent prosecutors with a background in literature and awards, also have a prostrating air about them, with a traffic light in their eyes, who are able to give the green or red light to the manuscripts which pass through their hands, with their voice and vote. Even so, I want to make something very clear, I continue to hope that there are incorruptible judges; it doesn’t matter if they then disappoint and are lost.

A few months ago, a friend sent a book to the call for the Santa Clara City Foundation Award. Of course, he didn’t get anything. And I say of course, because his story was about this hell of categorizing of writers and artists and the military recruitment telegrams. And of course, it digs into the UMAPs, that experience of involuntary imprisonment, which the Cuban government insists on not knowing about, or worse still, has chosen silence as their answer to the avalanche of criticism which it has received for allowing the existence of forced labor camps in the early years of the Revolution, which used to crowd together religious believers, homosexuals, bums and others with the sign “deviate from the revolutionary process.”

And one day – months after the ruling – at the last award ceremony for the Julio Cortazar Ibero-American Short Story Prize, to be more exact, while my friend and I were talking, a writer walked over who had been on the jury for the Santa Clara prize.

Under the promise of remaining anonymous, he confessed that he had taken the novel as the prize-winning one and had agreed with the other jury member, but the president of the Santa Clara City Foundation said that as long as he was still the president, he would never give out the prize to a counter-revolutionary book. I don’t need to say his name. The fact that he has this miserable role is enough. And this whole thing about it being a “counter-revolutionary book” seems so out of date, covered in dust in the glass display cases in the Museum of the Revolution, but let’s not be fooled: it hasn’t gone out of fashion.

However this wasn’t all. The writer on the jury stated that although he had supported the book, even if he had managed to convince the president that this was the prize-winner (which is somewhat weird and questionable), the publisher responsible for publishing it would never have agreed to print it. Then came the flurry of recommendations, that he send it to the La Gaveta Franz Kafka Prize, or to the Reinaldo Arena Prize (for Cubans whose books could never be published in Cuba, for now) or to any international competition.

Of course, I would like all of this to be pure senseless speculation, just a suspicion. I would like all of this jibberish to be part of my paranoia and an untrue conspiracy, because it goes without saying: I would be afraid if this becomes true.

One thought on “Cuba’s Silent Gatekeepers

  • The regime having lost Fidel’s voice is trying to keep something of it to give it legitimacy. Such empty slogans die off or are transformed to mean something else. The ideal’s of Fidel are much more likely to persist than his failed economic model. Lot’s of things can be said and done in the name of Fidel now that he has passed that where not possible while he lived.

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