Sunday, May 8, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara with students 1

Alfredo Guevara (no relation to Ernesto "Che" Guevara) is a key figure in the Cuban Revolution. One of the historicos, Fidel and Raul's generation of revolutionary leaders, he joined the revolutionary struggle as a university student — where it is said he was assigned to accompany Fidel around Havana University carrying his gun hidden inside a book, so that Fidel could use it if needed while avoiding arrest for carrying a weapon. 

Guevara directed the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) from its founding in March 1959 until 1980, overseeing what many critics view as the golden age of Cuban cinema during the first decade of the Revolution. In 1991 he again assumed the directorship of ICAIC, a position he held until he retired in 2000. A highly respected and controversial figure in Cuba to this day, his loyalty to the Revolution and its historic leaders is beyond question. Yet he has always been something of a free spirit with a reputation for speaking his mind, upsetting some people and delighting others. A fierce critic of bureaucracy and mediocrity in cultural and intellectual life, he has been able to preserve a youthful irreverence and passion into his ninth decade, qualities which allow him to "connect" with Cuba's revolutionary youth. 

A year ago he was invited to give a guest lecture to journalism students at Havana University's School of Journalism, where Luis Sexto — some of whose commentaries I've translated for this blog — is a professor. His introductory comments, translated below, were followed by an extensive question-and-answer session that's also worth sharing and which I'll translate in instalments. Guevara touches on many important themes in this frank dialogue.

Alfredo Guevara: dialogue with Cuban journalism students (Part 1)  

Havana University School of Journalism, May 5, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

I would have very much liked to see a film to begin with, because although I'm a semi-retired film director I still follow the cinema with interest and there are things that journalism can learn from some of the great directors. About journalism as it should be. I'm talking about the film screened at the close of the 31st Latin American Film Festival [in Havana], the film about Hugo Chavez made by Oliver Stone, which I think is one of the most recent documentary films that's a great lesson in journalism.

I'm old, but I've spent my entire life fighting for one cause or another. When I was very young I was an anarchist, later on I became a Marxist, I've always been a libertarian and I'll continue to be one. The first thing I want to say, starting from my own experience, is that a journalist who does not fight for what she believes in will never be a good journalist. One can be a journalist in the Western sense of which we are a part, the West, of this world initiated by the Greeks and which carries over into our own times the imprint of those earlier times. Although even the concepts have evolved and among the words that have been revolutionised is the word 'democracy'.

I'm going to begin by talking about militancy, but I'm not talking about party militancy, I'm talking about passion. To believe in something and to surrender oneself to it at any price. The journalism that is taught in the journalism schools I'm familiar with: France, Spain, Canada. I'm not going to talk about ours here in Latin America, which I also know, but which could hardly be more underdeveloped nor based more on mimicry. If they were they simply wouldn't be journalism.

In those schools the word 'objectivity' is a fallacy: objectivity tends to be a lie. From where I'm coming from I'm horrified by certain words such as objectivity, prudence ... objectivity is always fake, prudence is always fake and the two always go hand in hand, whether one likes it or not, with lies or half-truths. I met for some hours with one of the most outstanding journalists and at times, I don't know whether deliberately or not, one of the most aggressive. We had a very polite conversation with this journalist about one aspect of this theme: balance rather than objectivity. I didn't ask him to be partial in the slightest, I knew he wouldn't lie, but neither did he tell the truth. In his journalistic work he said what suited his objectives, in other words he served or tended to serve the publication for which he worked. When I'm talking about balance I'm not talking about objectivity; a journalist has to approach objectivity as it is, but she must have her own objectivity, her own point of view.

I remember when I was very young, [revolutionary student leader] Jose Antonio Echeverria and I planned to steal some materials from a film and newsreel company, the director of which was Señor Alonso. But our plan was thwarted because the notes were discovered in the pocket of someone who was killed in the storming of the Goicuria military barracks, we don't know how that happened. The plan was paralysed, Jose Antonio was assassinated and I couldn't carry through with it. Then one day I did it. It involved taking the stuff of these people who had sold out to Batista, film-makers who supported the dictatorship, and using it to make propaganda in support of the Revolution. Nothing is easier if you know how to do it and if you have a little talent: you shoot the footage, put it together, edit it, add the appropriate text, put in music that resonates with the hearts of the viewers. We didn't use these materials in Cuba but we used them for solidarity with the Revolution in the US and in some Latin American countries. And the cinemas throbbed with the material that defended the Revolution, denounced Batista and which had been filmed in support of Cuba. I can't show you these materials because they are now lost in the archives of the Cuban Film Institute where they were archived, one day they'll reappear, these things happen.

Oliver Stone did the same with Chavez, he took clips from the US news media — OK, in this case he bought them rather than took them — and he showed how they go about demonising Chavez. I'm one of those who believe, and please understand my words, that true intelligence always has a certain demonic element. If there's not a little devilry then intelligence is not being used to the fullest. Oliver Stone rendered Chavez more coherent. I'm a rabid Chavista despite myself because I admire his deeds, but I don't support his language. This lack of support is not permanent; there are moments in which Chavez is brilliant. When one edits something it is done to express one's viewpoint.

How sad I feel when I think, not about you but about so many youths I meet in our country who are empty and insensitive to something very important. The things we put up with in our daily lives are too harsh, too bitter, sometimes they hurt us so much in life and in the lives of our families, and it's logical that they develop certain characteristics of insensitivity, of desperation and rejection; that the language of the Revolution sometimes slides like water off a duck's back, not off the Revolution but off its spokespeople ... at least in our profession, that of the press, of television. I don't know if it's the same with radio because I hardly listen to it; they tell me it's better. I hope so. But what's clear is that our press is very poor, it's not convincing and even in the best cases, such as [the communist youth daily] Juventud Rebelde that's beginning to show a certain transformation, it has not been able to strike down what I'd like see struck down in our press. But this is not due to lack of passion or insensitivity, it's a question of policy. You have the enormous good fortune to be very young, it will be up to you, as the Revolution develops and some steps can be taken that must taken so it doesn't perish. Steps that must be taken and will be taken, willingly or unwillingly; I think willingly.

I don't represent my generation [of revolutionary leaders] because I don't hold any official position, but I represent it before my conscience because very few of us remain; my generation is fading very gradually for biological reasons, the generation that initiated the revolutionary process. But Raul [Castro] is there and some others in which I have complete confidence. I think the steps that need to be taken are going to work in our favour, because if not then history would pass a terrible judgement. It would be terrible if the historian's interpretation of the first generation were to be that it was incapable of taking this step. I believe those who are called upon to do it are ready to take this step, what's important is that this step is taken and that future historians won't have to say: they had to disappear biologically for this step [i.e. the renewal of Cuba's socialist project] to be taken.

It's a step that doesn't imply even remotely a rupture with the socialist vocation of the revolutionary process and its vanguard, a vanguard that is being renewed more or less gradually, and that perhaps many of you will come to be part of in the future. Really, unless they have the responsibility in their hands — the responsibility of being able to decide — human beings don't grow, they become sleepy people, more or less sleepy, waiting to see what the decisions are. But I'm sure that when you or others of your age are able to do what must be done and make decisions, some will show that they're not capable of much; others will show they're capable of a little; and some will be the protagonists of the new revolutionary vanguard.

Let's return to the topic of journalism. I said that only with militancy — by which I mean passion and passionate partiality — can true journalism be done in my opinion. From a very young age all of my generation [of revolutionary leaders] did journalistic work. Raul, at the University [of Havana] edited the newspaper Saeta [Arrow]; Jose Marti contributed to a newspaper; Lenin considered that the Revolution could not move forward without a newspaper; and so it's always through a publication that the ensemble of ideas to mobilise consciousness to achieve something are brought together.                                            

If some of you, instructed in the ideas that still go around, believe in objectivity, OK, you still have time to become disillusioned. Great journalism is done by those who have great passion. Jose Marti was one of them, he did great international journalism; Karl Marx, [Cuban novelist] Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, [Peruvian Marxist] Jose Carlos Mariategui; and [Cuban communist leader] Julio Antonio Mella was a great journalist during his very short life. Defending causes, this is true journalism. Not clouding one's judgement to defend this cause at any cost. To read a journalistic work of Karl Marx or Jose Marti is to see works of profound truths that pursue a cause and an objective. 

I don't know how they teach you journalism. There aren't many examples of great journalism in today's Cuba which could serve as models for you. Frankly, I think — and this is what I defended in my time at the Cuban Film Institute — that one must always start with the best example, you have to try to be the best of the best. Whether or not you achieve this standard or not is another thing. But my God, what example can we give you? Where are those paradigms of our journalism? I don't know how hard it is for the professors here to cite a contemporary journalistic paradigm. But I'm a professional optimist, and I'm sure — which is why I've dared to come here — that if you prepare well, if you follow the path of improving yourselves profoundly and rigorously, of being open to the whole spectrum of cultural expression, perhaps one day when the opportunity arises and if you don't hold back, eventually you'll become great journalists.             

(Translation to be continued)                

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