Saturday night I’m yawning in front of a boring cops-and-robbers thriller on TV. The phone rings and it’s Adolfo,* who is still behind bars since a tantrum of power condemned him in the Black Spring* of 2003. He sounds upset. Some quasi-literate jailers are preventing him from receiving the books and magazines brought by his wife on her last visit. The list of the “dangerous” texts withheld includes the Catholic publications New Word, Secular Space, and the spiritual reflections of Saint Augustine. His co-defendants and fellow inmates, Pedro Argüelles Morán and Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez, have been united in exerting pressure in the only way they can: Rejecting the meager sustenance put on their trays. As long as they refuse to pass on the sustenance of words, they will refuse the tasteless ration that keeps them alive.
The distrust among the Canaleta* prison guards provoked by the books reminds me of the Columbian Jorge Zalamea and his poem-novel, “The Great Burundan Burundi has died.” A dictator, fearful of articulate language, condemns his subjects to a world without communication and without literature. To enforce his mandate of silence, he recruits all those offended by words. He summons, to train his armies of censors, “those incapable of fervor, those lacking in imagination, those who never talk to themselves, (…) those who hit animals and children when they don’t understand their glances…”
The pawns who today withhold Adolfo’s books form a part of these same phalanxes of illiterate censors. Jailers of expression, they understand—as the Great Burundan might understand—that the human condition and “the rebellion that follows it, have their foundation in the articulated word.” They suspect that when Adolfo, Pedro and Antonio are engrossed in an essay or a story the bars disappear, the jail fades away, and they manage to shake off their lengthy sentences. The “instruction” received by the guards in Cuban prisons ensures that they know that a book is something extremely dangerous.
Black Spring: In March 2003, coinciding with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cuba arrested about 75-90 people including about 25-35 journalists (reports vary). The majority of these people remain in prison.
Canaleta: A high security prison located in Ciego de Ávila, about 460 km (285 miles) east of Havana.