by Maykel Paneque
HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, the neighbor opposite me shouted, from his doorway, for me to switch on the TV. “Don’t miss the latest act of the Cuban Comedy show.” The TV program Mesa Redonda (Round table) was remembering, on its eve, the 55th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s meeting with artists and writers back in 1961, which was then baptized “Words to Intellectuals”.
Back then, author Virgilio Pinera had raised his hand to say “I’d like to say that I feel very afraid. I don’t know why I feel this fear, but that is all I have to say”, and he was right somehow: this “Words to Intellectuals” speech, which was immediately drafted up into a written document, would define and outline cultural policy in the country from that moment onwards.
How can one man believe he’s capable of outlining the cultural policies of an entire nation and not fail in his attempt? Being absolutely certain that he’s always right, but if that’s so, doesn’t he at the same time lose his rightfulness? I mean to say reason, of course. It’s clear to deduce therefore: the whole hour the program was on was just so panelists could praise the achievements of this cultural policy. Not a second was spent on trying to explain some of the instances of terror that Piñera foresaw.
“We are not forbidding anybody from writing about the subject they want to. On the contrary… We shall always evaluate their creation through the prism of the revolutionary crystal”. “What are the rights of revolutionary and non-revolutionary writers and artists? Within the Revolution: everything; against the Revolution: no rights at all.” “Because if someone thinks that there is any desire to eliminate or to stifle it, we can assure him that he is absolutely mistaken.” One thing’s for sure. “Within the Revolution: everything; against the Revolution: nothing.” These are some fragments taken from the “Words to Intellectuals” meeting.
How did the documentary PM criticize the Revolution? What did Heberto Padilla, Anton Arrufat, Cesar Lopez and Abelardo Estorino, Jose Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera himself write against the Revolution, to cite a few? What was it that they wrote against it that they were ostracized like so many others and had to wait over a decade to see their books published and their work represented once again?
It’s important to remember that they were also dismissed from their jobs and stuck in others in order to purge them of their sins. There are so many testimonies in this regard. It’s shocking to read their books and not find any crimes to charge these authors of. They weren’t wrong to think that they wanted to “stifle” and “eliminate” them. They were right, very right, in being suspicious of “the prism of the revolutionary crystal.”
It wasn’t a mistake that the 45th anniversary of the disastrous First National Congress on Education and Culture, the direct result of the “Words to Intellectuals” meeting, wasn’t celebrated. It was better to silence any memories about this Congress which was held between the 23rd and 30th April in 1971, which was called to find solutions to the problems existing in education and culture, and which only created more. Political ostracism and marginalization, and it’s best not to go into further details.
Of course, these were also direct results of the “Words to Intellectuals” meeting, as much as this first event doesn’t want to assume responsibility for them. You have to read Fidel’s closing ceremony speech to fully understand the nightmare that was going to become a living hell for writers and artists from that moment onwards. Furthermore, you have to remember that whilst this Congress was being held, Heberto Padilla, after his imprisonment, declared his repented mistakes which would make so many follow in his footsteps, at the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. As we already know, this self-criticism was accompanied by farce and policing language.
Yesterday, Miguel Barnet in his intervention on Mesa Redonda said that the “Grey Years” (1971-1976) was the result of a misinterpretation of Fidel’s ideology. That’s the first I’ve ever heard about that.
Who interpreted his ideas wrongly? And why weren’t they stopped in time? Once again, the idea that he is always right surfaces. Or rather: the belief that he’s always right.
Not five, not ten years, it was many more, and the chromatic scale has even reached the black notes, as Cesar Lopez would say. Fidel broke culture in the ‘70s to such an extent that it still hasn’t recovered. It would be wrong for us to forget that censorship still exists today. And its reflection too: self-censorship.
This is the main legacy today of the “Words to Intellectuals”: the different forms of fear, the feeling that comma or an elderly person’s breathing, written down, could be referring to the Revolution. Censors remain well-paid even today, where they want to update the words which sing in tune with the sinister anthem: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”