Cuban artists and intellectuals commemorate 50th anniversary of poet Herberto Padilla’s confession
Fifty years ago, Herberto Padilla, one of Cuba’s most distinguished and famous poets, gave a historic speech at the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba. Once a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro, by the late 1960s he had grown disillusioned with the ideals of the Cuban Revolution. His award-winning poetry book in 1968 Out of the game criticized the Castro regime and soon after its publication Padilla and his book were called “counterrevolutionaries”. In March 1971, he was jailed for 36 days by Cuban security forces for “plotting against state powers” and subjected to fierce and constant interrogation.
On April 27 in front of the union, he publicly denounced himself, his job, his friends and even his wife. For many leftist writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Alberto Moravia and Susan Sontag – who have all come to his defense – Padilla’s imprisonment and forced confession has exposed Castro’s true colors and changed the way thinkers liberals around the world would see the Cuban government.
Today, on the occasion of the anniversary, artists and activists of the International Movement of San Isidro in Cuba and of the 27N present The shadow of Padilla, a choral reading of the 4,000-word statement Padilla delivered to the Union of Artists and Writers, broadcast via social media throughout the day and night and presented on the web by institutions in the United States and Europe, including The Showroom in London, the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, the Herberger Institute in Arizona, Miami Perez Museum of Art, Franklin Furnace and Artists in danger Login.
“Padilla’s confession was a harbinger of what was to follow: a period known as the Gray Five Years in which dozens of Cuban artists and writers were banned from public life.” , a press release announcing the event, directed by Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco, says. “The Cuban government’s treatment of Padilla has made visible its protocol for dealing with intellectuals and artists and has since served as a warning to those seeking to challenge the primacy of state authority.
Twenty Cuban intellectuals and artists from the island and the Diaspora participated in the project, which was pre-recorded and transmitted to presenters via encrypted messaging to avoid any attempt by Cuban authorities to block the participation of islanders.
The original confession has been documented on video, although the full recoding has never been made public. Fusco said The art journal she wanted the performance to retain the look and feel of a 16mm newsreel from the 1970s, “to bring us back to that pivotal moment in the 1970s.”
While Padilla’s story is known in Cuba and the United States, organizers say few remember the words he said during his supposed “confession”. Many project participants, who were themselves pressured, silenced or arrested by the Cuban government, told Fusco they were shocked by the text, that it had caused anxiety attacks, insomnia and nightmares.
“Padilla’s Confession is a study of political abjection that is painful to see and reproduce. But it’s necessary, especially now when a new generation of Cuban artists and intellectuals challenges the state’s authority over them. Fifty years after Padilla’s auto-da-fe, the Cuban government continues to demonize critical voices and characterize intellectuals who challenge the revolution as lackeys of foreign powers, ”Fusco said in a statement.