This past November, the Cuban poet and journalist Raúl Rivero made what I believe was his first public appearance in New York City. Rivero was for awhile a leading journalist of the Cuban state—the Moscow correspondent during the 1970s for Castro’s press agency, Prensa Latina. He is someone who wanted to believe in the promise of the Cuban revolution—wanted to believe in what he has called “the dreams of human redemption sung by the bearded victors of 1959.” But he came to recognize that, in Cuba, the dreams of human redemption had ended up sacrificed to the monomania of a dictator. An old story, you say? The betrayal of a revolution? Yes, an old story. And yet, in the case of Cuba, the betrayal of the revolution turns out to be a story that, even now, remains invisible to vast numbers of people around the world.
So Rivero moved into dissident opposition. In 1991 he formally broke with the regime and founded an independent Cuban news agency. He wrote reports of what was actually happening and sent them abroad for publication. He taped some of these reports and distributed the tapes in Cuba—a tape-cassette samizdat, to use the old Soviet word for underground literature. His recordings were biting and ironic. He wrote poems. And, of course, he was detained by the police many times.
In the spring of 2003, Rivero was officially charged with “undermining the independence or territorial integrity of the state” and condemned to twenty years in prison—he and a large number of other dissidents in Cuba. The imprisonment of these dissidents aroused a protest around the world, or, at least, in those parts of the world that still give a damn about the struggle of dissidents against dictatorships. Václav Havel in the Czech Republic protested, together with a number of other people from the old anticommunist dissident movement in the East Bloc. José María Aznar, the prime minister of Spain, took a hard line in favor of the Cuban dissidents, and when Aznar was succeeded in office by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the new prime minister took a soft line. The protests, the hard line, the soft line, all of them together, evidently influenced the Cuban regime. In November 2004, the dictatorship released Rivero from prison, even while continuing to hold a large number of other dissidents. And he departed Cuba for an exile’s life in democratic Spain.
His visit to New York aroused a genuine excitement. The Cuban Cultural Center of New York and a few friends put together a meeting to welcome him, presided over by the television journalist Rafael PiRomán. A number of people spoke—including Ana Dopico and Ada Ferrer of New York University, the champion of liberty Nat Hentoff, and the literary scholar Lourdes Gil. Pablo Medina presented an essay. My own role was to read a number of Rivero’s poems, which I have translated from the Spanish.
Here are those translations, followed by Medina’s essay....
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