Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cuban Intellectuals Support Openness

Cuban intellectuals hoping new openness will last

EFE News Service


(c) Copyright 2008. EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

By Jose Luis Paniagua.

Havana, Feb 7 (EFE).- An unprecedented debate last year among Cuban
intellectuals about decades-old cultural repression touched off a snowball
effect that has even been felt within the inner circles of the island's
communist government.

The debate on the "five grey years" (1971-76), as the witch hunt against
artists and intellectuals for homosexuality or their supposed lack of
commitment to the revolution has been labeled, today reverberates in a
critical examination of Cuban society that extends beyond the cultural

Culture Minister Abel Prieto said Tuesday that there is not even "the most
remote possibility" that the errors of the past will be repeated in Cuba.

He made the remarks after the presentation of a documentary in which famed
Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez recalled a boat trip at the end of
the 1960s after having problems with cultural authorities on the island.

The past 12 months in Cuba have seen developments such as the screening of
Anton Arrufat's play "Los siete contra Tebas" (Seven Against Thebes), a work
that had been censored for four decades.

Special tribute also will be paid to that author, the winner of Cuba's
National Literature Prize in 2000, at the Havana Book Fair, which gets
underway on Feb. 13.

Cesar Lopez, who was honored at the previous fair, spoke out at that event
in favor of Cuban authors whose writing has been censored by the government
in Havana, such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reynaldo Arenas and Antonio
Benitez Rojo.

For the first time, Cuban television has shown movies such as Tomas
Gutierrez Alea's "Fresa y Chocolate" (Strawberry and Chocolate) and the
documentary about baseball, "Fuera de Liga," in which players who have left
Cuba for the United States, like Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, explain their
reasons for defecting.

Additionally, in preparatory meetings for April's Congress of the Union of
Cuban Writers and Artists, people have expressed demands for such rights as
free access to the Internet, the unrestricted ability to buy and sell houses
and vehicles and the freedom to freely travel to and from the island.

The need for government "permission to leave and enter, that should be
completely abolished. That's something that was done with other ends (in
mind), for other reasons, and has survived for too many years in Cuba, and I
don't think there is any reason for it," Rodriguez, who will give up his
seat in parliament on Feb. 24, said earlier this week.

Beyond the purely intellectual realm, even provisional leader Raul Castro
has acknowledged that Cuba needs "structural" reforms and has promoted
debates in which people have expressed their opinions about the country's

Fidel's younger brother referred to these gatherings on Dec. 28 in
parliament, during a session in which he agreed with those who say there is
an "excess of prohibitions" on the island.

At the same time, Raul, who took the reins when Fidel was stricken with a
serious illness in July 2006, has made it clear that for the time being,
Cuba will remain a one-party state.

According to Rodriguez, the contemporary reality in Cuba is one "of change,"
"like a transition process."

For his part, writer Leonardo Padura, who uses the metaphor of a "snowball,"
told Efe that the "debate among the intellectuals was a little ball that has
gradually grown (with) different needs and complaints having slowly been
added to it."

"A change in perception about many phenomena in Cuban society has begun and
it wasn't by chance that the intellectuals were the ones who began to move
this wheel, which had completely stopped," he said.

"There are demands that at this stage are absolutely fundamental," he added,
such as the right of Cubans to enter tourist hotels, leave the country, have
access to cell phones and freely sell houses and automobile, as well as
demands for changes in the forms of landholding and production.

Arrufat told Efe that when the debate took place last year some did not want
to participate because "they thought it was an isolated matter, and in this
country isolated matters tend to flare up and affect many other matters."

In his opinion, Cuba is going through "a moment in which the people in
general and we artists are willing to participate and participate means
butting in."

"If we get burned later," he said, "that's something only time will tell,
but at least the fear is gone." EFE

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