1971-2009: The Grey Millennium

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 for reliable writers.  Culture in the hands of the institutions and a 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 Cabaña with the presentation of *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.

Below is the text Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo wrote for the presentation—most controversial—at this boring International Book Fair.

[Translator’s note: Heberto Padilla, one of Cuba’s leading poets and author of “Outside the Game” was arrested in Havana on March 20, 1971,  for criticizing the regime.  He was imprisoned until 1980 when he was allowed to join his family in exile in the United States, where he died in 2000.]

The Domestic Detectives

 Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It could have been a title from Roberto Bolaño, the dead universal Chilean. A guy who doesn’t fit entirely within the staff of the XVIII International Havana Book Fair, within the “moral” walls of the recycled firing squad pits of the Fortress of San Carlos de La Cabaña (February 12th to 22nd, headquarters of the event).

And, indeed, our domestic detectives, no less savage than those of Bolaño, 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!” If your son comes to the Fair on Monday we are going to hang him, they say, and then hang up. [click here to continue reading–> Hours earlier, Michelle Bachelet had inaugurated the Fair. She gave a light and lightly democratic speech in her blue dress. The Chilean president spoke of a “culture of death” that devoured her homeland in the long-and-extended “17 years of authoritarianism” (the geography seems predisposed).

Barely 17 hours later my telephone was receiving the anonymous telephone calls and my gmail <orlandoluispardolazo@gmail.com> 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 Sánchez, 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. There will be a kind of graffiti on the other side of the Wall. Nothing intervening or interfering publicly. Nothing of acting civil in the middle of the zoo fairground. Just a group of friends and a willing audience, sitting on the public lawn to talk of writing and censorship in Cuba. With luck, also to plot strategies for revitalization and dynamitation of the sleepy Cuban cultural canon of the two thousand or zero years (my generation has named itself: Year Zero).

But no way. “The Fair has no Outside,” could now be a court ruling from some Derridean provincial named Sánchez o Rojas o Prieto. Tetric theory of deconstruction.

So, last Saturday, February 14th, after launching myself above two cops who, thanks to the photos that by chance Lia Villares (blogger of Hechizamiento Habanémico Hebdomanario) was taking moved away from me cunningly, a vice president of the Cuban Institute of the Book came and spoke to me quite clearly. People would be angered by my presentation. The edge of the Cabaña reached to the Bay Tunnel. Inside these boundaries the presentation would be aborted a priori. The physical consequences of the matter were “out of his hands.” And now. Well, thanks for listening to me, Orlando Luis. When will I again cross, like a simple citizen, the drawbridges of the fortress?

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.

While foreign poets read Mapundungun 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. And, to make the puns worse, a name included in The Fantabulous Isle. The Cuban Story in the Revolution (1959-2008), the new official anthology where Alberto Garrandés didn’t remove me in spite of the ruckus www.anti-orlandoluispardolazo.cu. Who´s afraid of Orlando Woolf?

These are the facts. The rest is a party atmosphere imported from the Chilean biblio-left. Something like the late ‘60s in a Chamamé remix version. Humming Michelle Ma Belle in an old-folks-disco straight from this insecular Brave New Havana. Utopia dense and disciplined dry.

These are the facts. The rest is that we always read that imaginary Chile, from the pages of our e-zine of irregular writing, The Revolution Evening Post, irreverently and incendariously. Another continental island that shouldn’t wash its hands now, like the protagonist of that novella titled Archipelago Cubag.

These are the facts. Tomorrow, Monday of the post-revolution February 16th of 2009, at three in the afternoon in Havana, “without fail” Cuba will be able to put its Cabaña to the gun wherever it wants (phallus of Morro included). At the risk of repeating the fossil fable of the fox and the grapes (or low-hanging mangoes), we are not interested in exposing more barbarism. We are clean people and useful to ourselves who will not be put in a putative pugilism with the dictatorship of the proletariat nor with the police.

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. Maybe I can still ask for the right of literary asylum in the Chilean embassy in Santiago de Havana.

For the rest, of the launching of a bit boring case of Boring Home, I do not encourage those called to attend at the esplanade at the entrance of the concentration camping outside La Cabaña (except the experts of the political police). 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.” Our imaginary Cuba will continue to be irreverent and inflammatory. A country more potable in the middle of a permanent parapolitical paradise Made in Latinoamerica.


  1. My heart goes out to the brave people that will be attending this book launch today.
    I hope that nothing happens to them.
    Every keep your fingers crossed for OLPL and everyone else today please!

  2. This world is full of myopic people. They refuse to see what a noble people had suffered for the last 50 years. They enter this blog to defend the indefensible. May the grace of God grant peace to a suffering Cuba.

  3. Well my previous comment never made it on…
    So here it is:
    The book is available on my blog.
    Just click on my name and you’re all set.

  4. Sickboy and Cold in Chicago — both of you just had perfectly good comments (with only one link each) get caught in the spam catcher. I don’t know what to tell you… they should have been posted. But, as I said before, once they go in there… they don’t come back out no matter what I do!!!!

    So my apologies to you both.

  5. As of about 6pm Havana time here’s the news we have:

    It’s from the blog “Penultimos Dias” — I won’t try to put in a link in case the spam killer kills my comment too. But google that name and you’ll get there.

    Roughly it says:
    2:50 pm – They’re in place, waiting — a lot of police and a few audience members
    3:15 pm – The book was presented by Orlando a few minutes ago without incident (so far) and with the foreign press. There’s a tape recording made by telephone… he’ll post it tomorrow.. the sound quality is terrible.
    3:35 PM — He just talked to Yoani and Orlando for a long time. The presentation went very well. Yoani read some words titled, “Between the walls” and then Orlando gave a short speech, very dignified. The audience started at about 12 but grew to 50 — they gave out CDs with the book on them. Since the morning the presenters had been surrounded by the police, who also filmed everyone who showed up. CNN and NBC and other press were there along with foreign writers but it was mostly young writers in the audience. It’s a re-vindication of the right to use public space for the independent presentation of cultural alternatives, free of intimidation and threats.

    Original text from post:

    14:50: Ya están en el lugar, haciendo tiempo. Muchos policías de civil, pocos asistentes por el momento.

    15:15: El libro ha sido presentado por Orlando hace unos minutos, sin incidentes (hasta el momento) y con presencia de la prensa extranjera. He grabado (vía telefónica) un trozo de la presentación, sobria y nada provocadora. [La calidad es muy mala, a ver si mañana logro editarlo].

    15:35: Acabo de hablar largamente con Yoani y con Orlando. La presentación ha ido muy bien. Yoani leyó unas palabras tituladas “Entre dos muros”, y luego Orlando improvisó un discurso muy digno. El público inicial eran una docena de personas pero terminaron siendo unas 50. Se repartieron también varios CDs con el texto del libro.
    Desde hoy por la mañana, los presentadores han estado rodeados por un operativo de policías de civil. Los que se encontraban en la explanada se han dedicado incluso a filmar a todos los asistentes.
    En la presentación estuvieron también periodistas de las cadenas CNN y NBC, así como varios escritores extranjeros. Pero el público, en su mayoría, eran jóvenes escritores.
    Se trata, sin duda, de algo completamente inédito: la reivindicación del derecho a usar el espacio público de un evento oficial para presentaciones culturales alternativas, pasando por encima de intimidaciones y amenazas.

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