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On Censorship and Its Demons

During the past fifty-six years, censorship in Cuba of works of art and the cultural practitioners who produce them—justified as a defense of the Revolution—has paradoxically resulted in a boomerang effect against the political prestige of the revolutionary process. From the beginning, that revolutionary process encouraged and developed the artistic expressions that underpin and reinforce our national identity, ensuring the continuity of the positive legacy of this time in our history. If we were to tally up the rectifications and retrievals of works and cultural figures once stigmatized and branded as counterrevolutionary (which led to their being condemned to political ostracism) by leaders and officials of a rigid and dogmatic orthodoxy—an effort that has occasionally been interrupted by corrupt, opportunistic, or simply inconvenient actions within the vertical power structure—the list would be a long one. Today, the injustices committed during the so-called Gray Five Year Period are officially recognized, and any making of amends, reparations, and appropriations of their legacy has taken place for the most part only after the authors have already died or have emigrated. But for those who had to leave because their works criticized, exposed, and denounced the intolerant, authoritarian tendencies of the bureaucratic system, to be “rescued” meant you were already dead.

Criticism is a means of understanding the truth, and it is inherent to any artistic endeavor that explores, investigates, and scrutinizes human conflicts in social, political, and economic terms both historically and in their current reality. And being intolerant of criticism has been and continues to be a symptom of fear in confronting the responsibilities of a bureaucratized power structure that has made mistakes, committed excesses, and deviated from its original revolutionary and liberal impulses. There were mistakes and foolish remarks motivated at some times by impatience and good intentions, and at others by willful blindness in a sea of chimerical stagnation; an inability to adapt and restructure the utopia in accordance with the pressing requirements of a reality in need of an objective, sensible, and balanced assessment of the causes of its flaws and shortcomings so as to correct them. Instead, and despite the recurring calls for rectification and public critique of how badly things have been done over these past fifty-six years, the attention is always directed at the phenomena rather than the causes.

The absence of systematic critique in informed media, which is itself subjected to castrating censorship, has forged the sacred, untouchable nature of the vertical decisions made by power. Attempts to mask this are made through participatory consultations during which the “makeup” is retouched and reapplied. There is a sense of stagnation in public awareness and an ideological exhaustion regarding the worn-out, propagandistic character of a state media that turns its back on the reality of a dull and lifeless future, provoking an apathy and escapism for those who are worried about ideological diversionism, and the superficiality and banality of the entertainment consumed in “paquetes,” i.e., computer games, reggaeton music, and so forth. This loss of values—the rudeness, vulgarity, the lack of discipline in public behavior—is also the result of not having nurtured and promoted independent judgment and healthy rebelliousness as part of civic education, as Che Guevara encouraged us to use against all liars and opportunists who tout their dictates of discretion, caution, and restraint in our nonconforming citizens’ forms of expression. There are legitimate disagreements regarding the civil right to express an opinion without it being repressed by fear of the consequences of a critical viewpoint appearing “in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in a politically incorrect manner.”

Many works of film, theater, and visual arts have contributed to confronting us with this wall of silence that is protected by the ideological gatekeepers who censor and condemn those same works in the name of the Revolution, when in fact those gatekeepers are undermining the pillars of humanism in our society. Movies, plays, sculptures, and paintings—not to mention the period of prohibition suffered by the best exponents of the Nueva Trova movement in Cuban music, who ultimately became the most authentic voices of the Revolution—have suffered the brunt of this reactionary hangover that shuns the debate of ideas.

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