The Critical and Mythical Eighties
During the early eighties, Cuba completed the strongest economic liberalization since the prerevolutionary period. These reforms also brought with them the first signs of corruption of many state employees. The loss of socialist ethics and the worsening conditions of the external markets on which Cuba relied caused Castro to launch a campaign of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies during the Third Congress of the Communist Party in 1986 (Perez-Stable 1993, 255). While Fidel Castro’s program was contemporaneous with Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, Cuba did not adhere to the policies of perestroika or glasnost. Gorbachev’s program was a set of reforms aimed at opening up the country to the market economy while maintaining a centralized and planned economy and the control of power. The Rectification Process, on the contrary, promoted a return to the politics of ethics sustained by Guevarista principles that encouraged revolutionary spirit, revolutionary work, and voluntary labor (Eckstein 1994, 64). The program’s goal was to strengthen the importance of social consciousness over material values and, most importantly, to encourage political commitment among the youngest population: “The main question was knowing whether the citizenry—the great majority of which was born or grew up after 1959—would become committed to socialism. This was precisely the goal of the process of rectification” (Perez-Stable 1993, 260).
In fact, at the Fourth UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba) Congress held in 1988, Minister of Culture Armando Hart expressed his concern at the critical spirit shown by the young artists formed by the Revolution: “ ‘ I have talked to many young people, and the problem is that they want to be critical. They want to be close to reality. The new generation of artists and young artists is very critical,’ said the Party’s Politburo member” (Granma 1988, 4). Arte Calle’s performance was only one example of the abundance of critical visual arts from the eighties. As Navarro argues, however, the spirit of such works exemplified the general attitude among the young intellectuals born and educated in the Revolution: “It was precisely at the beginning of the 1980s that new critical voices began to be heard, this time stronger and in greater numbers. They belonged to young intellectuals . . . the majority being plastic artists, though there were also fiction writers, dramatists and stage directors, filmmakers, and essayists” (Navarro 2002, 191). These rebellious attitudes were met with repression on the part of political authorities, who, over and over again, blamed and punished cultural officials. Sometimes exhibitions were closed, such as the famous Proyecto Castillo de la Fuerza in 1989, or films were only shown for a few days, like Alicia en el pueblo Maravillas (Alice in Wondertown, 1990), and most of the times, the Ministry of Culture made it impossible for artists to travel abroad. The latter happened, for example, in the case of many of the symposiums seeking to include both inland and exiled artists; intellectuals in Cuba were met with all sorts of bureaucratic difficulties to obtain a “permiso de salida [departure permit].”
In 1996, for instance, after a failed symposium in Madrid between writers from the island and the diaspora, Rolando Sanchez Mejias, one of the writers that this book analyzes, published a “Carta abierta a los escritores cubanos [Open letter to Cuban Writers]” in Encuentro de la cultura cubana (Sanchez Mejias 1996, 90).6 In his letter, Sanchez Mejias defines Cuba as a totalitarian state and accuses the Ministry of Culture of absolute ideological control over culture. Responding to Sanchez Mejias’s claim that Cuba no longer had intellectuals, Minister of Culture Abel Prieto published in the same journal “Ser (o no ser) intelectual en Cuba [To Be or Not to Be an Intellectual in Cuba],” a reply defending the free and plural nature of Cuban culture (Prieto 1996, 94).7 Dissidents were met with “actos de repudio, [acts of rejection]” and films such as Techo de vidrio (Glass Ceiling, 1981) were removed from the theaters because they depicted acts of corruption in the workplace. Those totalitarian measures challenged what many scholars have viewed as the revitalization of civil society and the formation of interest groups.