The truth about the Padilla case | Entertainment | The USA Print

The truth about the Padilla case
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On December 31, 1958, Fidel Castro overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban revolution triumphed to the satisfaction of a large part of the large group of intellectuals in the country. Novelists, poets and artists celebrated the departure of the dictator and the arrival of the new political air, convinced that with the new regime “there was room for criticism and freedom”.

The news of Padilla's arrest went around the world

The news of Padilla’s arrest went around the world

But that belief faded as a result of the Padilla case . The poet Heberto Padilla received Castro enthusiastically. In 1959 he worked for the daily Revolution and it didn’t take long for him to settle in the Soviet Union, where he was a correspondent for Cuban media. He returned to the island in 1966 already disenchanted with the USSR and perhaps also with Castroism. But he remained convinced that the revolution had not ended freedom of expression. And he published a collection of poems, Out of the game (1968), which his colleagues liked and won the Julián del Casal Award from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

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We fans of Latin American literature look enraptured at the images of the confession of the Cuban Heberto Padilla in 1971 with the same ecstatic countenance with which we would contemplate a video of Jesus sufferingly ascending Mount Golgotha ​​or a lost film that showed the execution of Lorca during the Civil War. . So this, that we’ve read so much about, was exactly like that?
The Cuban signed the performance of his life in a sober staging in which details are not lacking: how very sorry he is, addressing the friends he accuses, including his wife, with the note “surely they will not dare to get up and deny me” – as if to say “don’t even think about it” – the evocation of his talks with state security agents, who took him out to sunbathe and opened his eyes… There is passion, conviction and attitude. The Oscar for best secondary goes to Norberto Fuentes, who rebels against the accusing finger and tries to show that his criticism of the system is legitimate and loyal.
The Padilla case is not just any case. At the beginning of the revolution, Spanish-speaking intellectuals and writers steadfastly supported a political change that began with enormous educational and health gains. The liberticide that indicated the harsh reality of Padilla –impossible to mask– broke the boom like a fragile branch: on the one hand, the critics (led by a then very left-wing Vargas Llosa) and, on the other, Cortázar and García Márquez. Gabo and Fidel became friends as a result of this case: the commander wanted to meet that Colombian who had asked to withdraw his signature from a manifesto against him (they put it on him without permission).
How Padilla sweats, how sure he is. The poet is a pretender. And in his garden the heroes graze

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But the Castro government did not share that enthusiasm. On March 20, 1971, after having read his work in public provocations , Padilla was arrested along with his wife, the also poet Belkis Cuza Malé. They were accused of subversive activities. Padilla and Cuza were held in the Villa Marista prison for 38 days. It was never known for sure what happened during that imprisonment, but when he left the prison, Padilla was another man, a repentant man.

So repentant that he brought together the cream of the Cuban intelligentsia to sing the mea culpa out loud with lights and stenographers. On self criticism de Padilla before the Union of Cuban Writers have flowed rivers of ink. It was a long speech (in the best Castro style), which lasted for hours, in which the writer renounced his critical works and enthusiastically embraced the regime once again. He also gave rise to the disenchantment of many Latino writers with Castroism.

But what Padilla said that day before the greatest of Cuban letters was only known from what some of those present had recounted and from a transcript of his speech. Until now. A few months ago the Cuban filmmaker Pavel Giroud received a cassette in Beta format with the recording of the self criticism complete of Padilla. “I don’t know who sent it to me or where it came from, but I do know that there were more copies, although no one dared to use it,” Giroud explains in an interview with The vanguard during his recent visit to Barcelona to participate in the BCN Film Fest.

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Fidel Castro in a moment of the documentary

Fidel Castro in a moment of the documentary

“I thought a lot about what to do with that material. I could have posted it on the internet, but only the usual would have downloaded it, so I decided to make a film so that the matter would have a greater impact and time has proved me right”, adds the filmmaker who has turned this material received so mysterious in the documentary The Padilla case which next Friday will be released in Spanish theaters.

Giroud received a cassette in Beta format with the recording of Padilla’s complete Self-criticism

Giroud believes that this film, which “is touring the entire world”, has helped “many lose their blindfolds”. And it is that the film shows how little the airs of freedom lasted in Castro’s Cuba. “Guillermo Cabrera Infante said that censorship came in 1961 and he was right. Fidel met with the island’s intellectuals that year at the National Library and there he dictated the rules of the game: against the revolution, nothing”.

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“Castro transmitted that the artists could do what they wanted, but that the contents had a limit. Several intellectuals showed his concern. With good reason, because some newspapers soon began to close, then things got worse and the guinea pig was Padilla, since his case was used as an example of public punishment.

What happened to Heberto during those 38 days in the sinister Villa Marista prison? “Padilla recounted that they beat him there, but he probably suffered psychological torture with which they destabilized him, instilled fear in him and forced him to send a message to his union that he had to jump through hoops,” says Giroud.

But not everyone present at Padilla’s long self-criticism shared the message at first. Norberto Fuentes, another of the writers designated by the regime, did not want to incriminate himself and rebutted Padilla with a long and controversial speech in which he defended that he was not even remotely a counterrevolutionary. Giroud explains that Fuentes “went out to talk in search of affection and attention, he had been very close to Fidel and one of the regime’s writers, but he ended up in prison and left Cuba thanks to Gabriel García Márquez. He now lives in Miami ”.

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Ashamed. “I have criticized each of the initiatives of our Revolution. What’s more, I have done a kind of aggressive style. I feel ashamed and I needed to talk to my friends because I didn’t think it was enough for me to write a letter to the Revolutionary Government repenting


Cabrera Infante. “I defended Guillermo Cabrera Infante. And who was Guillermo Cabrera Infante, that we all know? (…) He had always been a resentful person, not just of the Revolution, a social resentful person par excellence, a man of humble origin, a poor man; a man for whom I don’t know why he became embittered from his adolescence and a man who was from the beginning an irreconcilable enemy of the Revolution”.


Praise the agents. “And I have had many days to discuss these issues, and the colleagues from Security are not police officers.


Lezama Lima. “The Cuban Revolution has been fair to Lezama, the Revolution has published two beautifully printed books for him this year. But Lezama’s trials have not always been fair to the Cuban Revolution.”

However, García Márquez was one of the few writers of his generation who maintained sympathy for Castroism. The Padilla case marked the disenchantment of “most of the novelists with the regime, even left-wing authors like Octavio Paz or Juan Goytisolo, broke forever, the same as Mario Vargas Llosa, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Carlos Fuentes, Alberto Moravia, Juan Rulfo, Jean-Paul Sartre or Susan Sontag, who signed a letter requesting the release of Padilla during his internment”, a letter written, by the way, at the Barcelona home of Vargas Llosa.

What happened to Padilla after his Self-criticism? “They sent him to a farm to keep him away from the foreign press. There he could write and he was also a translator, but he had a hard time. He tried to settle in Spain, but Castro only allowed him to go to the United States after reaching an agreement with Senator Edward Kennedy. However, his North American stage did not fare well because left-wing writers saw him as a traitor and dissidents did not perceive him as one of their own. He passed away in the year 2000.”

“Now, the repression has intensified and I dare not go to Cuba, because I don’t want to be a martyr”

And lastly, how dared Giroud make a film so critical of the Cuban regime? “In Cuba I was privileged, because I could live from my work, which is not easy at all. There was a moment of greater apparent freedom and I rolled the companion a film that is not kind to the regime. Now, the repression has intensified and I dare not go to Cuba, because I don’t want to be a martyr,” concludes the director of The Padilla case .

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