Heberto Padilla was one of Cuba's leading poets and author of Outside the Game. Although he had been a strong early supporter of the Cuban Revolution, in 1971, when he questioned the direction it was taking, he was arrested and imprisoned. His case caused intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Susan Sontag to break with the Castro dictatorship. Padilla was eventually released to the U.S. where he died in exile. His autobiography, "Self-Portrait of the Other" tells the story of artists from around the world, who flocked to Cuba to support the regime in its early years, and his brutal disillusionment.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is Cuban writer with several books published by the official state publisher. Now, blacklisted because of his politics, his most recent book, Boring Home, was rejected. He, Yoani and others planned a "public release" of the blacklisted book to take place outside the Havana Book Fair. As a result, Orlando and his elderly mother received death threats, as reported in this post.
1971-2009: Almost Forty Years Later and Nothing Has Changed
The Padilla case and its grey consequences over Cuban culture have been perpetuated more than one can believe. Almost four decades and it seems like not even a few minutes have passed. Authors censored, books banned and exhibitions planned only for 'reliable' writers. Culture in the hands of the institutions and a privileged few deciding which texts will see the light. That one was called Heberto, this one Orlando, but on the Island where both were born, the difference is still an offense.
We still don't know what will happen tomorrow at La Cabana with the presentation of Orlando's book, Boring Home, but those of us involved have learned something: little, very little has changed since Outside the Game was censored. Sadly, we remain the same.
Here are excerpts from Orlando's text. Following the announcement of the planned self-published book launch planned security agents terrorized his mother and threatened him by phone and email:
...our domestic detectives... call me on the phone every hour to terrorize my septuagenarian emphysema-stricken mother. They are young men and hide behind a public telephone to practice their prophylactic syntax of: "To the wall!" ["The the Wall" was the shout that sent Castro's enemies to the firing squad at the time of the Revolution.] If your son comes to the Fair on Monday we are going to hang him, they say, and then hang up... and my gmail overflowed with revolutionary violence against the Enemy of the People. Read: me. They are individual emails with apocryphal IDs. Blows, a desire to deform my face, kicks in the ass, if I dare to attend the Book Fair on Monday, February 16th, and there launch, freelance, (in the voice of the philologist Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y blogger) an author's edition of my book of stories, Boring Home: a work expelled to shouts from the State publisher Cuban Letters, perhaps for not quite fitting in with the program...
The rest of this weekend in Havana has been an exquisiteness of tranquilizers and fortune telling for the nerves and blood pressure of my 72-year-old mother: Friday to Sunday were just 72 hours of telephonic invasion and of email in the times of cholera.
Orlando notes that the Havana Book Fair welcomes authors from around the world, but refuses to admit a Cuban citizen and his novel.
While foreign poets read in the Mapundungun language in a room with air conditioning, under the almost summery sun of Cuba (a country with pretensions to the southern hemisphere), I, as a local storyteller, cannot even savor my prose at the edge of my own colonial bastion. For me, it speaks for itself.
Perhaps this happens to me for being a loquacious narrator who doesn't praise, but rather who chose the madness. An author with four books of prize-winning stories published legally in Cuba. Collaborator on blogs on the edge and blockaded portals... Who's afraid of Orlando Woolf?
No one at the Letras Cubanas publisher has contacted me since my book Boring Home was almost ready for printing (half a year ago): the institution rewards and punishes its deceased children. Well, thanks for listening.
Finally, as a fail safe method to launch the book, should the planned event be blocked by the police, Orlando hit upon a unique method of distribution:
The book will circulate anyway. It would not be a surprise if copies were already placed in the recesses of the walls in a kind of little game in the style of "Hidden Treasure."
Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English Translation.