My book of poetry Los culpables [The Guilty] features on the cover artwork by Cuban visual artist José A. Vincench. Vincench lives in the island and, since 2005, has incorporated onto his work iconic images from the Cuban Black Spring of 2003, when 79 peaceful dissidents where arrested throughout the island and sentenced in kangaroo court trials to prison terms ranging between six and 28 years. Their images are among the many things that the Castro regime, for obvious reasons, would rather keep away from the public.
I invite you to visit the artist’s page and, while there, peruse a series entitled “Abstracto parece pero no es” [It seems abstract, but it isn’t], where you can find the faces of several Cuban political prisoners, as well as images of the human rights activists group Ladies in White during their pilgrimages through Havana’s Fifth Avenue, or in front of Santa Rita’s Church, the point of departure for most of their walks demanding the release of their unjustly incarcerated loved ones.
The artwork that I selected to illustrate this text (as well as the cover of my book) is entitled “The things I can tell you with Rachel Whiteread, what History hasn’t told you” (2007). I chose it not only because I found it visually appealing, or because it was made out of a collage of books; not even because the face it portrays is very similar to that of XIX Century Cuban writer and patriot José Martí, a feature that all my fellow countrymen have pointed out. The main reason it graces my book is that “The things I can tell you…” is a re-creation of the portrait of a specific human being, a Cuban political prisoner. It is the face of Dr. José Luis García Paneque, who was unfairly incarcerated during the Black Spring of 2003 and whose sentence, after seven years behind bars, was commuted by the Cuban regime to a forced exile to Spain.
Other than in the cover of my book, a canvas version of Vincench’s work is featured at the entrance of my home. It is the first thing people see once they cross the threshold. And, thus, here’s a likely first question: whose portrait is it? Not intending to be heavy-handed, that is a natural segway for the “repression in Cuba” topic, which means that at the end of the visit, the non Cubans walk away with a clear picture of the hellish conditions faced by anyone willing to think for him or herself while living in Cuba. Selecting that image for the cover was not fortuitous. The first cycle in the book carries the Kafkaesque title of “The Trial” and consists of “Spring with a broken corner,” a 23-sonnet suite named after the aforementioned and unfortunate Black Spring that inspired it. One of those poems, XVIII to be precise, earned me the friendship of Ernesto Ariel Suárez, after appearing in “Fe de erratas (link in Spanish)” [The Corrections], an article of mine published in May 2003 in the online edition of the much-maligned by the Cuban government and Madrid-based quarterly Encuentro de la cultura cubana [Encounter of Cuban Culture]. Some of the political prisoners from the Black Spring were charged with having published their writings in Encuentro…. Five years later, and perhaps to close a cycle, Los culpables received a laudatory review (link in Spanish) in that publication, signed by Jorge Salcedo. (A side note: alongside Suárez and Salcedo, among other human rights activists, I was a member of the organizing committee of the campaign #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government, which demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in the island. Both, Salcedo and Suárez, went on to become dear friends of mine. And not only in Facebook. From here, once again, I salute them.)
And now you know: in this occasion we cannot apply the age-old axiom that states that appearances can be deceiving. Whether you buy the book or not, whether you read it or not, whether you decide to ignore it or you prefer to keep it by your night table, friend and foe, please be kind enough to judge Los culpables, The Guilty, also by its cover.