Translator’s note: This article appeared in the Havana Times two days ago in Spanish and has not yet appeared in its English edition. Following is an English translation prepared on HemosOido.com, which will certainly differ in some respects — as all translations do — from the one ultimately posted in the Havana Times.
The Hidden Sphere Versus the Public Sphere in Cuba.
From the HAVANA TIMES, March 1, 2012
by Isbel Díaz Torres
Photo: Desiderio Navarro presents the latest issue of the journal Criterios.
HAVANA TIMES, March 1 – In Cuba, the “hidden sphere” irrevocably determines the public sphere. This has been corroborated by the recent boycott [blockade] effected by agents of Cuban State Security at the space of the Criterios Theoretical-Cultural Center.
The important magazine [Criterios — Opinions] directed by Desiderio Navarro reached its 40th anniversary, and celebrated with a spicy meeting at its headquarters, located in the building of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), 23 and 12 in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana.
Overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to get the copies of the magazine into the country, the prestigious translator and essayist invited renowned intellectuals of the court to the presentation of it, and starred in a public debate about the meaning of the public sphere in Cuba, to which he also invited everyone interested in the subject.
But the invitation was not as open as Desiderio perhaps thought and designed it to be. At the entrance of the imposing building of ICAIC, a large group of political police, in plain clothes, determined in real-time who was worthy or not to form a part of the “Criterios public sphere.”
Thus, at the very moment of my entrance, I knew they I had rejected two members of the Committee for Racial Integration (CIR), whom I did not know intimately, but I had listened with interest at the meetings of the Brotherhood of Negritude, where they regularly attend and contribute their views in friendly way.
Such arbitrariness greatly bothered me, and I thought immediately to inform Desiderio when I got to the ninth floor (where the Center is located), to try to amend such nonsense.
Photo: Introducing the panel.
I suspected, of course, that the writer Orlando Luis Pardo, who was just two or three people behind me, and Antonio Rodiles, coordinator of the space Estado de Sats, would also be prevented from entering the building.
Seeing that those I mentioned had not reached the room, I informed Desiderio, who was already aware of it. But there was no solution. Desiderio explained that the building belongs to the ICAIC, and he could not determine people’s access to it.
I could see again how lacking in autonomy, how fragile is our public sphere, in which some “keepers” can so significantly skew a debate, by preventing the access of important players in the sphere in question.
A great number of boys, very young, occupied a good part of the chairs of the place, which was filled to capacity. It was quite suspicious to see how, once the exhibition began, many of them left. Were they or were they not interested in the panel?
I listened attentively to the presentations by the panelists: Leonardo Padura, Jorge Luis Acanda, Rafael Hernández, Yasmín S. Portales, Roberto Veiga, Arturo Arango, and Mario Castillo All, except for Rafael Hernandez, referred in one way or another the “hidden sphere” variable as powerful ballast anchoring the take-off that public sphere desired for Cuba.
No one called it the “hidden sphere” of course. For example, Yasmín referred to the manipulation and arbitrary classifications that are made of the actors in the Cuban blogosphere, while Leonardo Padura mentioned the systematic violation of his private correspondence.
Mario Castillo was the last of the panelists to enter the room, so she knew what was happening in the building’s entrance, which allowed her to denounce the fact with dignity during her turn to speak.
A boy from the audience, who called himself the opposition, also denounced from the microphone, vehemently but politely, the embarrassing situation of censorship in which we were living at this time. The boy was strongly applauded by the majority.
However, I must confess that I left before the event came to an end. I didn’t even buy the magazine that so much interested me. I felt suffocated in there where unwittingly, many were part of a process carefully designed by the “hidden sphere.”
Photo: Buying Criterios magazine.
It is conceivable that the ultimate goal of the obstruction was meant to prevent “dissident” thinking from entering and “contaminating us,” but even so it managed to enter (and fortunately it is increasingly difficult to stop it), I think “the hidden” truly sought to blockade Criterios’ horizontal debate space.
The method of closing the institutions was changed (or “updated,” a term in vogue). Now they prefer to empty them of meaning, to subdue them until all that’s left of them is the performance of what they were. It seems that they are the ones who dictate the cultural politics on the island.
It is more useful for this “hidden sphere” to cancel a prestigious space like Criterios, to discredit it, to prevent its further expanding its vocation of plural thought, to introduce censorship and self-censorship where there was fertile ground for the liberating spirit.
They did it with the magazine Temas (Issues), emptying that space that once suggested an awakening of minds. Now they are going for Criterios.
March 1 2012