Fidel with Nicolás Guillén, in July of 1989. Photo: Granma

The Revolution's cultural policy was largely defined in meetings Fidel held with Cuban writers and artists in José Martí National Library, during the summer of 1961.

I had the privilege of attending the last of these sessions, when the Comandante en Jefe gave the speech which came to be known as "Words to intellectuals."

I remember that day, June 30, Fidel came down with the library's director, Dr. María Teresa Freyre de Andrade, and spoke with the staff in the Children's Literature Department, very concerned about the books and the reading material children were given. When he reached the theater, there was a standing ovation.

I very much admired that 34 year old man, who arrived in his olive green uniform with a different discourse, unlike that of his political predecessors. The feel of the Sierra Maestra and the victorious battle at Girón was still in the air.

I had already heard him speak when he reached Columbia, with that fresh, modern, direct, colloquial way of speaking that touched the souls of everyone, because he was expressing extraordinary truths. And this was what most impressed me. This opinion was reconfirmed at the National Library. We were before a leader who spoke clearly and kept his word.

Fidel is the architect of Cuba's cultural policy. He created it all: the idea for UNEAC (the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists), the training of arts instructors, the system of arts education, the amateur movement, the network of provincial publishing houses… Shortly after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, founded were ICAIC (the Cuban Film Institute), the Casa de las Américas, and the National Press. The first book published by this institution was a massive run of Don Quixote, in four volumes at popular prices.

One phrase from those days reveals the legacy of Martí in Fidel's thinking, "We don't tell the people to believe, we say: read." In 1961, a noble, intense battle was unleashed to make Cuba an illiteracy-free territory.

From the very first moment, Fidel took interest in ensuring a cultural policy that was inclusive and guaranteed freedom of creative expression. The democratization of culture implied the establishment of institutions, and increasingly broader access for all sectors of society to museums, galleries, theaters, libraries, concert halls, and movie theaters. The most talented were to have the opportunity to gain academic instruction. This policy also provided for popular participation in cultural life at the community level, and took pains to ensure the preservation and promotion of patrimonial artistic expressions.

Cuba's writers and artists have had in Fidel one of our own. This is how we viewed him during UNAEC Congresses in which he participated, and in plenums of the organization's National Council. Hearing his assertion that "Culture is the first thing that must be saved" in the 1993 Congress, when we faced difficult moments, was a powerful stimulus and an act of faith in our ability to persevere and move forward with our social project. Five years later, in another gathering of intellectuals and artists, he spoke of the effects of hegemonic globalization and the need to confront it with arguments, ideas, and the massive promotion of an integrated general culture.

Fidel is the visionary, not only for Cuba, but for the world. A politician who made possible the greatest poem of our era: the Revolution.

To him, I dedicate these verses:


It is true that poets                                     

capture moments of life                            

and affix them in history.                           

Usually the past                                         

vague and nostalgic                                  

Or the immediate present with its subtle fires

and reverberations.                        

But how difficult it is to capture the future                                              

and place it forever                                    

in the life of all poets,

and all men