Photo: Juvenal Balán

The 60th edition of the Casa de las Américas Literary Prize, corresponding to this institution created by the Cuban Revolution “less than four months after the victory of January 1, 1959,” and the longest-standing Hispanic-American competition, was officially inaugurated in the Che Guevara hall of the Casa, in the presence of Víctor Gaute, member of the Party Central Committee Secretariat; and Culture Minister Alpidio Alonso, among other distinguished intellectuals.

The opening remarks, offered by poet and essayist Roberto Fernández Retamar, president of Casa de las Américas, paid tribute to the crucial role played by Haydée Santamaría, founder of the Casa, and the generosity and good sense of the Revolution, responsible for such significant cultural events, with repercussions across the region ever since.

Referring to Haydée, “a creature that was already a legend,” Retamar noted that: “With her revolutionary passion, her audacity, her intelligence, her sensibility, her gift for leading, she created our institution, and marked it forever. It is our privilege that this will continue to be her Casa.” He stressed that everyone, from the institution’s first workers to newest, who did not know her, “feels proud to work in what was, is and will be the Casa of heroine of the Moncada, the Sierra Maestra and the clandestine struggle; who, with her charm and her faith, drew to our cause many of the greatest writers and artists of our America, and even beyond its borders.”

Retamar recalled the inaugural words of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, in the last edition of the literary contest, who expressed that this Casa was also that of José Martí, having been founded by the heroine, who, like Fidel, was a faithful follower of the Apostle. Retamar also insisted that those who have succeeded Haydée, the painter Mariano Rodríguez and himself, have “never replaced” her, but always been loyal to her directions.

Later the poet noted that “The date on which this Literary Prize was awarded for the first time, 1960, is not an empty or random date. The immediate years would see the worldwide popularity of the literature of our America.” The reasons would not be strictly a consequence of the Prize, but neither could it be “denied that both realities (the Prize and the aforementioned worldwide popularity) date back to the event that brought our local history (...) into the great history. I refer, of course, to the Cuban Revolution, which attracted the attention of the world toward our subcontinent, and consequently toward our literature,” he emphasized.

The poet recalled that “In the 60s, an undoubtedly very valuable group of Latin American narrators was the subject of spectacular global recognition,” and that “many writers of the area have admired the Cuban Revolution, and they also collaborated to varying degrees, often very closely, with the Casa de las Américas, although there were plenty who later distanced themselves from both (the Casa and the Revolution), in spite of which we will continue to appreciate their works.”

The names Alejo Carpentier, Manuel Galich, Julio Cortázar, Mario Benedetti, Gabriel García Márquez, Eduardo Galeano and Roque Dalton, to mention just a few, were recalled by Retamar, who proudly noted: “Many Latin American and Caribbean authors, among the most precious, feel linked to us, or died faithful to the ideals of the Casa and of our Revolution (...) a revolution that, like all others, is not a walk in the park; like any human creation, it is not exempt from mistakes, it rectifies, and this happens 90 miles from the empire that has attacked us in a thousand ways, including the most drawn-out criminal blockade known of, and that does not stop threatening us.”

Retamar took the opportunity to recognize personalities such as “Noam Chomsky, whom I have called the Bartolomé de Las Casas of his own empire,” who is from that country where many others “have bravely defended and continue to defend noble causes.”

To conclude, Retamar fairly recognized Marcia Leiseca, currently vice president of the institution, “to whom, after Haydée Santamaría, the Casa de las Américas owes the most.”

The inauguration also saw the presentation of the juries in the novel, poetry, historical-social essay, Brazilian literature, literature for children and young people and studies on Latinos in the United States categories, who will determine the respective winners among the nearly 600 works in competition.