Cuban Authorities Confiscate All Copies of a Book About Rap at the Havana Book Fair
A book of testimonies and interviews, Rapping a Utopian Cuba by writer Alejandro Zamora Montes from the Spanish publisher Guantanamera, was withdrawn by the authorities from the recently concluded Havana International Book Fair, an act that activist Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna labelled as censorship in statements to 14ymedio.
Madrazo visited the exhibition stand of the Sevillian publishing house in La Cabaña fortress, home of the book fair, where he was informed that on the second day of the Fair, 2 February, authorities from the General Customs Office of the Republic (AGR) confiscated all copies of the book. Several other sources confirmed this confiscation to this newspaper.
Rapping a Utopian Cuba is a collection of interviews conducted by Zamora Montes with singers and promoters of the urban genre. It was published by Guantanamera in March 2017, although its first presentation on the island was delayed until this February.
“Shortly after one of the publisher’s representatives had given the author four copies of his book, a Customs official appeared without any papers or anything and took them all,” said Madrazo.
One of the young women who worked at that stall told Madrazo Luna, “This book can not be distributed.” The dissident and the directors of Guantanamera tried to get more details at the book fair, in order to submit a complaint, but received only the timid answer, “We’re not looking for problems.”
Daniel Pinilla, director of the publishing house, told 14ymedio that “there was a problem with Customs due to an administrative issue and it was one of the books they considered to be a problem and so it could not be presented.”
Despite the inconvenience, Pinilla reiterates that the editors of the imprint, which was created to disseminate the works of Cuban authors, are continuing the project “with the hope of achieving good visibility for the catalog in 2018, through a literary prize with the prestigious Carmen Balcells literary agency and other initiatives.”
The author, Alejandro Zamora Montes, declined to make a statement to this newspaper about the incident, saying he was not in a position to talk about it.
The book includes an interview with the rapper Aldo, from the duo Los Aldeanos, a group censored in the official media of the Island. This may be the reason for the withdrawal of the book from the Fair.
Several anonymous sources of the Cuban Book Institute (ICL) consulted by this newspaper suspect that Zamora Montes’s book was excluded from the presentations and commercialization during the recently concluded Book Fair precisely because of that interview and other interviews with voices critical of the government, such as the musician Silvito El libre.
The interview with Aldo took place in 2014, shortly before the publication of an Associated Press (AP) report naming several figures of the Cuban hip hop movement who receive support from a program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The AP said that the project sought, through urban music, to “lead Cuban youth to oppose the Government of the Island.” After the publication of that report the duo Los Aldeanos was accused in the official press of receiving political instructions from Washington and the siege of censorship closed even more tightly around the musicians.
The book also includes the testimony of graffiti artist Yulier Rodríguez, who has recently been arrested and is facing police pressure to force him to erase his graffiti from Havana facades. Rodriguez, however, was not aware that Rapping a Utopian Cuba was going to be presented at this year’s literary event.
For Madrazo the withdrawal of the work weighs heavily on readers because “the book is a humble example that only seeks to dignify what has been an underground movement of alternative urban culture. It takes the pulse of more than 20 years of hip hop culture in Cuba.”
According to the activist, the speech of these musicians is still “annoying” to the authorities who believe that “rap is war.” However, the urban genre has helped to “unmask the racism in which we have been educated and how the fear of blacks operates as an instrument of power in Cuba today.”
The decision to remove the book came as a surprise to its author who commented in an interview, at the end of 2017, that his book would appear at the next Havana International Book Fair. Zamora Montes hoped that the compilation would provoke “a positive debate” and would continue the opening of a discussion around Cuban hip hop.
Hip hop has been a target of Cuba’s cultural authorities since its inception, especially the work of those singers and composers whose lyrics openly criticize the government and narrate the social problems that are often ignored by the official press.
Racism, violence, police repression, drug use and lack of freedom are some of the social issues addressed in the lyrics of this urban genre that gets under the skin of officials of the Ministry of Culture.
The moment of greatest friction occurred in 2011 when the government appropriated the Rotilla Festival, an event organized by the independent Matraka project.
Guantanamera is a project of Lantia Publishing that was started under the direction of Pinilla in 2016 who told the EFE agency that it is “a loudspeaker in search of talent” on the island.
It is the second time that the Seville publisher has participated in the Havana Book Fair. Last year it arrived with its first catalog of 40 works and it now has more than one hundred Cuban titles. Guantanamera publishes books by young authors such as Daniel Burguet and Ariel Maceo Téllez, as well as by older writers such as Eduardo del Llano and Esther Suárez Durán.