UCL Institute of the Americas


Panel discussion: Representing Post-Soviet Cuba: Media, Literature and Cultural Memory

07 February 2018, 5:30 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas


UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

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The Cuban media has played a central role in shaping ideas of nation and national identity linked to the political system installed after the Revolution. The aim of defending the homeland is still regarded as a mobilizing force and an incentive to safeguard the island's unity. To furnish those discursive strategies, the past is evoked either in epic terms, reflecting on the heroism of the early revolutionary years (Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, the Battle of Ideas) or to contrast it with a well-known catalogue of all the ills of pre-revolutionary Cuba. In order to support the status quo and the permanence of the revolutionary present, the Cuban media has directed the country's collective memory to specific targets, to those events and scenarios that have enabled a positive reinforcement of the "authenticity" and legitimacy of the revolutionary government. This has been possible by implementing a national scheme of collective forgetting (Connerton, 2009), where versions of the past favourable to the ideological aims of the Revolution have been essentialised to suit a common narrative about nation and national identity. Outside this cultural amnesia (Connerton, 2009) and epic representation of the past within the revolutionary and post-Soviet eras, Cubans' personal accounts of these events have remained largely absent or inaccessible. This panel discussion will reflect on issues of collective and personal memory in contemporary Cuba, and will be followed by a launch of Ivan Darias Alfonso's book of short stories, Viejos Retratos de la Habana (2017)

Dr. Ivan Darias Alfonso holds a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London and a Masters from Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. His research focuses on Media and Cuban émigrés in Western Europe. From 1994 to 2004 he worked on Cuban media (print, broadcast, and online) as a journalist and editor. He is currently working on a book on Cultural Memory in the Cuban diaspora.

Dr. Juan Orlando Pérez González is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media, Culture and Language, University of Roehampton. He has previously taught Journalism at the University of Havana and the University of Sunderland, United Kingdom, and has been visiting lecturer in other academic institutions in Cuba, Mexico and the United Kingdom. He won several awards for his work as a reporter and writer in several Cuban newspapers and magazines and later worked for the Spanish American Service of the BBC in London. He is the author of the blog Juan Sin Nada and of a widely read column in Cuban online magazine El estornudo.

Dr. Angela Dorado Otero is a postdoctoral Teaching and Research Fellow in Iberian and Latin American Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. Her last book, Dialogic Aspects in the Cuban novel of the 1990s (Boydell & Brewer, 2014) examines six Cuban novels published between 1991 and 1999, all part of the new 'boom' of the Cuban novel in the 1990s.

Book Launch:

Viejos Retratos de La Habana (Chiado Editorial, 2017) by Ivan Darias Alfonso.

Viejos Retratos de La Habana (Old Portraits of Havana) puts together six short stories, whose protagonists are elderly in Cuba today. They have had to cope with convulsive times, changes, collective optimism, massive projects that never progressed and disappointment about a society that survives with great questions, once the revolutionary euphoria has passed.

The Havana that they remember does not exist, nor can it exist again. The one they live in, stands out due to the slowness with which daily events take place, in that everlasting art of waiting for something to happen, something perhaps supernatural, that might pull the whole country out of its lethargy.

The stories narrate a day in the life of six characters who, from the Cuban capital or from sites of the diaspora, reflect on their memories of their country, on past and recent changes; but also on their forgetfulness, on that part of their personal stories impossible to incorporate into their present, which leads them to question their own existence and nature.