Cuban Intellectuals: When Fear Seeps Into the Bones / Angel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated
Miguel Barnet, Raúl Castro and Abel Prieto
How is it possible that intellectuals who were humiliated and punished
by the same people who now govern the country, stay next to the boots
that kicked them into submission, that harassed them until they were
broken in body, soul and artistic endeavor?
They suffered so much that the fear still corrodes them and they
continue to talk in whispers for fear of being overheard and punished again.
These intellectuals reaffirm the lesson received when they learned: this
is and will be the rest of your days. Many have already died and could
not go beyond the artwork for which they were punished. The fear never
left them. Nor have those who remain gone beyond, obviously because they
lack the time and spirit to do so.
Isn't it time to submit the bill? Someone has to pay for the books not
written. The plays not staged. The music not created. The empty or
fatuous canvasses. Who will pay for all this lost culture?
Some were imprisoned in concentration camps known by the acronym UMAP
(Military Units to Aid Production), because then everyone had to be a
man, strong and ready to pick up a gun. If they were not suitable
physically, or insufficiently masculine, or morally or ideologically
unreliable, they were sent as a punishment for not being useful in the
defense of the "Revolution." The artists who didn't openly defend the
Revolution in their works were put on the black list.
They also were sent to these concentration camps for not wearing Russian
boots, smoking cigars, or passing their working hours without getting
their hands dirty; and there were those labeled gay, religious, or
unenthusiastic about social tasks such as not participating in
"voluntary work" or the sugar cane harvest; these, too, were caught and
sent to these hells.
The sacrilege of the different
To receive mail or calls from abroad, to wear outlandish dress or new
fashions, was a direct affront to the socialist system. It was sacrilege
to listen to foreign music or to Cuban singers living outside the
island, to access literature that didn't sympathize with the
"Revolution," to have long hair was an insult to machismo, to be frowned
upon by any official or simply not to get along with the president of
the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on your block. Those
fascist-style or Stalinesque concentration camps (we know now they did
the same damage) were designed according Fidel Castro's version, and he
has not had the dignity to publicly acknowledge, or at least to say that
we was wrong in one of those writings he calls his "Reflections."
It's true that most of the intellectuals did not go to these
concentration camps, but as artists they are supposed to have the
sentiment to suffer those disastrous events that happened in their time.
In any event, they did not escape unscathed, suffering other acts of
torture, derision for being creative. Most were expelled from schools
and workplaces. Their cultural work was slanted for many years, and
ultimately it was permeated by that fear that sinks into the bone.
All the artists were mocked by political, military and cultural
officials, who concurred in being the same. And "Socialist Realism" took
off because it was the only way to present yourself as an artist. And
they are still out there presenting their anti-aesthetic and submissive
Several decades of those early events that marked Cuban artists have
passed, and still the horror keeps them prostrate, the impression caused
by the punishments imposed, their bodies still bleeding from the wounds
as in the early days, sometimes covered by false scars constantly hidden
Frozen by the horror
Worst of all is that they remain silent and still pretend to support the
system. They still respond like intellectuals of the seventies. The
horror froze them in time and they don't know how to reject it, to share
their real opinions about "the damned circumstances" that occur in
society because their mission, they were told, is to be artists, and the
artists are concerned only to entertain people without questioning the
political leadership of the country.
If one is an artist of the "left," from anywhere in the world that
questions the United States or any political process opposed to the
dictatorial regime of Fidel Castro, then one can be a political artist
and you were and are invited to summer in Cuba. Artistic thought can
only go in one direction, and the arrow of orientation is toward the
The question that follows is whether they will die with that fear. If
they will never be able let escape what they have always hidden. If they
will contain their catharsis and present their suffering and
discrepancies from surfacing before the ways of acting of the political
process, and if they will conform to the narrow purged space they were
permitted during "the email war" of 2007. If they will continue being
the bland part of society, as we were labeled by that disagreeable, and
later crazy, State functionary?
At least it is my wish to invite them to fulfill their aspirations, that
are reasonable with their conscience, with which they can honestly
expound their ideologies and their personal conversations where they
give free rein to their real thought, and say and assume it publicly.
You will then see that their hearts will swell with emotion as they beat.
January 4 2012