Official Writers: The Good Life is Over / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang
Posted on July 23, 2015
Now that the slogan is economic profitability, what will happen to all
the mediocre but loyal intellectuals?
Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 20 July 2015 – In that
"without haste but without pause"* race to impose a new economic model
that might alleviate the ravages of Fidel Castro's despotism, in Cuba
some are wondering if the changes will positively or negatively affect
the forms of cultural management to which a majority of writers and
artists have been accustomed.
I am referring to the model that has permitted many of them to live,
sometimes well, sometimes not, but "without breaking a sweat," meaning
publishing books that no one reads and that will never be sold;
receiving prizes and distinctions for a lifetime of submissive work;
manipulating competitions; plundering travel allowances or missions to
Venezuela; haggling over, in the offices of the Culture Ministry,
frequent departures to fairs and events abroad; being the official
lapdog who paves the way to court, and turning himself into a character
that is half rogue and half leftist intellectual who says he has
renounced international success due to his "revolutionary commitment."
Many questions arise now that all those who have lived off of – and even
thrived from – the "profitability" of those false loyalties are on a
leaky boat in the middle of a stormy sea.
However, the need that absolutely everything on the island be
economically profitable has placed writers as well as the government at
a crossroads, breaking an old loyalty pact in which political power
ensured the feeding of the ego of that other party, bothersome, who
mastered words, all in exchange for complicity.
Under that convention, real writers fled, joined the internal resistance
or adapted to the circumstances while, out of the mediocrity there were
born hordes of producers of texts without conflicts that only would have
served as a backdrop to that illusory cultural conformity environment,
of a gilded world, that seems to exist only in bookstores and book fairs.
But now, when the deal has been broken and entrepreneurial profitability
is sought, will Cuban writers continue publishing according to that
"quota system" established by the island's publishers and magazines
under which the single fact of being a member of the Union of Cuban
Writers and Artists, UNEAC, or feigning political obedience ensures that
you remain in the publishing plans at least once a year?
What even will be the fate of UNEAC or the Cuban Book Institute? Will
their true roles as thought "managers" be revealed?
What will happen to the thousands of mediocre but faithful
"intellectuals" whom the government will have to ignore if it does not
want to continue maintaining a no longer useful claque, especially in an
era when the touch screen of a tablet or a cell phone is more attractive
than a rough paper surface in black and white?
The new official discourse, no longer based on the egalitarianism of
Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto but on the life raft that are Marino
Murillo's "Economic Guidelines," is repetitive with respect to the total
elimination of gratuities and quite insistent on the rapid
transformation of state-subsidized entities into businesses forced to be
profitable in order to be able to continue existing.
However, everything works as a trap. Statutes governing self employment
do not allow the creation of publishing cooperatives or those
initiatives that encourage a cultural environment alternative to that
other one controlled, supervised, censored by the Communist Party and
Writers, if they want to be profitable, that is, if they want to avoid
starving to death, will be obliged, much more than before, to write what
they are asked to write, to adhere to the margins of tolerance, to feign
greater fidelity or, on the other hand, to try their luck abroad or,
simply, to change jobs to something much more promising in the Port of
Mariel Special Development Zone. After all, the "general president" has
already said it; the first thing is the economy while the term
"culture," in the official discourse, has gotten divorced from utopia in
order to marry trade. "Economic culture," "market culture,"
"entrepreneurial culture" are the seasonal pairings.
"We writers are screwed," say several friends who accept the uncertainty
of the times. Managing to enter the international publishing market is a
true feat for any writer, Cuban or not. The negligible likelihood of
something like that happening increases fear, and analyzing the few
opportunities for survival without sacrificing the writing trade, the
only path to choose is to continue with the pact of silence as long as
the storm lasts.
That fear of being on the outside and on their own can only partly
explain why, in contrast with musicians and filmmakers, Cuban writers
avoid disobedience and feign living outside of politics; however, they
are naïve to ignore that now their former role as vassals is not useful
in a world where money has completely displaced the word. Now, clearly,
the government is not prepared to invest money and time in breeding what
it has always seen as a caste of spongers and would-be traitors.
Although always committed to not publishing writers opposed to the
Revolution or works that could unleash the demons among the mob,
publishers and other Cuban cultural institutions, which until yesterday
functioned under an impression of art for art's sake where the official
resolution of "art for socialist ideology" was disguised, now have been
forced to redesign their profiles and undertake the race for survival,
an eventuality that suits the government perfectly and that will serve
to sweep away all the poets and narrators who offer nothing substantial
to the building of that rare socialism financed with capital from the
The total elimination of state subsidies, the reduction in publishing
plans, the cutbacks in author copyright payments, the massive layoffs
from publishers, the assumption of business strategies that take them
further from their foundational principles and that transform the
editorial element, that is to say, the true reason for a business to
exist, into a secondary matter, has been a true earthquake for those who
trusted that, for culture, any future time would have to be better.
Now it means speaking and writing less and working more, is what the
Cuban government says, which also has replaced its traditional "fleet"
of literati for a torrent of ideologues capable of providing to the
people that "Revolutionary" literature indispensable for pretending that
nothing falls apart: military officers with too much free time and
turned into historians, State Security agents turned novelists and
poets, historians feeding the revolutionary epic, children of Raul and
Fidel occupying the printers with their manias and cravings, all the
Book Fairs revolving around them, while the writers attend the end of
times, their own extinctions, with the calmness of cattle led to
slaughter, just for fear of breaking the silence.
*Translator's note: Words from a 2014 speech by Raul Castro to the
National Assembly about "updating the Cuban economic model."
Translated by MLK
Source: Official Writers: The Good Life is Over / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez
Chang | Translating Cuba -