The triumph of the Revolution marked a new stage for Cuban culture, whose special day is celebrated every October 20, in commemoration of that historic date in 1868 which saw the combining of patriotic conscience and art.
Following his first call to arms or “Grito de Yara” against colonial Spain, 10 day’s earlier, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who would later become known as the Father of the Homeland, took the city of Bayamo, which would burn before surrendering - where the country’s national anthem, “La Bayamesa” written by Perucho Figueredo was sung for the first time, perfectly combining the sprit of independence and music.
This magnificent prologue to a war of independence that would last almost a century, helps us to understand why in the most difficult moments of the Special Period in the 1990s, Fidel stated that the first thing that must be saved was culture.
It all started with the Revolution. The cultural project, ongoing for over 50 years, has nurtured the spirit of the Cuban people, and guaranteed all citizens the right to culture.
1959 saw the emergence of some of the many artistic and cultural institutions which exist in the country today. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that several of the island’s most emblematic cultural institutions were founded that very year; including the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) and what is now the Cuban Book Institute (originally the National Printing Office), in March, and the Casa de las Américas, in April.
With so much to be done, and the Cultural Revolution just emerging, what is astounding is the initial action undertaken
THE INGENIOUS HIDALGO
The National Printing Office was founded barely three months after the triumph of the Revolution, and the following year – on the initiative of Fidel or Alejo Carpentier (both are recognized as the instigators) a legendary edition of 100,000 copies of the classic The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, one of the finest examples of Spanish literature, was published.
In 1961, the National Printing Office would be responsible for printing text books and manuals used in the National Literacy Campaign, during which almost one million Cubans learned to read and write. The 55th anniversary of the process was celebrated this year, marking one of the Revolution’s primary achievements and a transcendental event in Cuban culture.
Literature has become a must for the island’s citizens, known to be avid readers, as seen during the Havana International Book Fair which overtakes the capital’s San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress every year.
TWENTY-FIVE IMAGES A SECOND
March 1959, was a propitious month. “With the certainty that if we love our film, there is nothing better than to let it be officially established,” the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry was born.
As proof that film is part of the inherent essence of the Cuban people, one need only mention the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, where directors from across the region, and other parts of the world, as film knows no borders, are always left moved and astounded by the large numbers of well-informed moviegoers from the island who attend.
Meanwhile, 30 years ago, the San Antonio de los Baños International School of Film and Television (Eictv), located some 30 kilometers from Havana was, as Alfredo Guevara put it, created “in the shadow of Fidel,” by 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gabriel García Márquez, and Argentine and Cuban film directors Fernando Birri and Julio García Espinosa, respectively.
BNC & Casa de las AmeriCas established
The Casa de las Américas was founded in April by revolutionary heroine Haydee Santamaría, to provide a space for convergence and dialogue among Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals and artists. Its Literary Prize is today one of the most prestigious on the continent.
Ballet, considered an exclusive art form enjoyed by a minority around the world, is tremendously popular in Cuba. The National Ballet of Cuba's director, eximia ballerina Alicia Alonso, has said on multiple occasions that she always had the close collaboration of Fidel, who saw ballet as high art, that the people deserved to know and enjoy.
In May of 1961, just days after the victory at Playa Girón, Fidel himself created the National School of Arts Instructors, with the idea that these young people would convey their learning to city and country residents, describing them as one-of-a-kind cultural promoters. The Higher Institute of Art and the National Art School would come later.
Words to intellectuals
On June 16th, 23rd, and 30th of 1961, Cuban artists and intellectuals met at the National Library with the leader of the Cuban Revolution, and his final remarks have gone down in history as "Words to intellectuals," and continued to serve as the foundation of all that has been developed in the field of culture. In them, the course of Revolution's cultural policy was charted.
Professor Eduardo Torres Cuevas, director of the National Library, which bears the name of José Martí, recalled those June words, 55 years later, affirming, "It was a speech born of Cuban originality, of Cuba's revolutionary and cultural tradition, of its deep roots, the harvest planted by the men of 1868, 1895 and 1933, and all that creative force was at the disposal of the makers of the new society's nascent culture, constructed on the basis of the traditional culture of resistance to colonialism, to neocolonialism, to interventionism, and to imperialism."
In another context, but commenting on the same remarks by Fidel, poet Miguel Barnet, current president of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), just two months later said, "Throughout our history, they have wanted to decontextualize the Comandante's famous quote, 'With the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.' These words of unity, coherence, were the initial program for what is today our cultural policy: open, flexible, with freedom for tendencies."
When in 2010, the 7th UNEAC Congress unanimously granted the historic leader of the Cuba Revolution the status of Member of Merit, it was not only for his career as a journalist, writer, and orator par excellence, but as the principlen promoter of cultural institutions in the country.
During the posthumous tribute to Fidel this past December 3, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba's Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, announced, "True to the philosophy of José Martí, that 'All the world's glory could fit in a kernel of corn,' the leader of the Revolution rejected any manifestation of a personality cult, and remained faithful to this position until the last hours of his life, insisting that, after his death, his name and likeness never be used to designate institutions, plazas, parks, avenues, streets, or other public spaces, nor monuments, busts, statues, and other such tributes be erected.
There will be no marble statues, but he will be sung and recalled. In the poem "To Fidel Castro" (1960), Pablo Neruda writes, “Fidel, Fidel, the people thank you/words in action and acts that sing."
And there's more. Another poet, Argentine Juan Gelman, likened Fidel to "a fire blazing against the darkness of night."