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Renowned Poet Uninvited From Festival in Latest Anti-Cuba Attack

A prestigious poetry festival in Paris canceled the designation of honorary president to renowned Cuban poet Nancy Morejón

Nancy Morejón is an internationally recognized poet, translator, and academic. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

France’s distinguished poetry festival, le Marché de la Poésie, or the Poetry Market, has come under fire by artists, writers, and activists across the world for their last minute decision to cancel the honorary presidency of Nancy Morejón over the 40th edition of the festival. The festival which will take place from June 7-11 in Paris announced the decision on Wednesday May 31, less than a week before the festival is set to kick off.

Nancy Morejón is an internationally recognized poet, translator, and academic. She was the first Black woman to win Cuba’s National Literature Prize and her extensive body of work touches on Black Cuban history and culture, women, and much more. She has lectured at Wellesley College and the University of Missouri in the United States, and currently serves as the director of the Unión Magazine, the journal of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

In the public statement announcing their decision, the board of Poetry Market wrote that the decision was made in response to “pressures, rumors, and attempts exerted to date, by both sides.”

Despite the festival’s vagueness, the decision was a direct response to a campaign waged by a hardline right-wing Cuban activist and writer Jacobo Machover, who today lives in Paris, France.  On May 24, 2023, the right-wing writer shared a communiqué on Facebook expressing his “dismay” at her notable achievement and said that bestowing this honor to the renowned Afro-Cuban poet would be “incongruous” and potentially tarnish the “reputation and image” of the festival. He demanded that the honor be withdrawn and declared that this act would “contribute to the freedom of Cuba, and of course of its poetry and literature, which are the common heritage of writers and poets the world over.”

Shortly after, the PEN Club France, an association of writers and artists which advocates for freedom of expression, and its president Antoine Spire wrote letters to the Poetry Market claiming that Morejón was unsuitable to receive the honor at the festival because, ironically, she is not against the Cuban government. 

Spire wrote, “she has not only strongly supported the policies of her country’s authorities, but has even signed several texts in Cuba, which we have in our possession, affirming that there is no repression on the island… I’m sure you, like us, haven’t had the time to research this woman’s biography, otherwise you’d have given up entrusting her with this honor. Is it still possible to turn back the clock? The French Pen Club, committed to the poetry market, urges you to do so.”

In just under a week, Machado was successful in canceling the honor to be bestowed on Morejón for her long history of work.

Freedom of expression?

The hasty decision has provoked a massive outcry from artists, writers, and progressive organizations across the world who question how the festival can use the pretext of freedom of speech and expression to silence an artist due to political pressures.

UNEAC strongly condemned the decision and in a press conference, the president of the Writers’ Association of UNEAC, Alberto Marrero, declared, “Cuban writers and artists repudiate any attempt to disqualify Nancy’s poetic and human trajectory and express our solidarity support to the distinguished creator. The hatred against Cuban poetry and culture [will achieve] nothing.”

The World Poetry Movement, which Morejón pertains to, released a statement condemning the French festival’s decision and called for people across the world to do the same. They specifically criticize the stigmatizing treatment faced by Cuban artists outside of the island and call it a “practice that offends and attempts to humiliate all artists who are faithful to their people and stand by them, in the face of the imperial onslaught and the economic, financial, commercial, media, diplomatic and cultural war waged by the United States of America against the small socialist island of the Caribbean.” They say that her only crime is “living and working in Cuba, and standing by the Cuban Revolution.”

Hannah Craig, the art space coordinator at the People’s Forum of New York City, told Peoples Dispatch, “We’re so often told that Cuban artists aren’t ‘free’, but we see with this example that real censorship comes from the imperialists, not from within Cuba. Nancy Morejon’s incredible work and legacy should be shared with the world, but because of right-wing pressure we are seeing an attempt to silence her.”

The International Union of Left Publishers (IULP) also released a statement condemning the decision and highlighting the hypocrisy of the French festival, “Not only does this decision go against all principles of freedom of expression and of ideas, it also capitulates to right-wing demands for censorship and legitimizes the systemic attacks of the US, Europe, and the interests of global capitalism on Cuban culture and society.” The IULP offered its support and solidarity to Morejón and “to all the Cuban writers and artists who, together with their people, stand strong and with dignity in the face of the systemic attacks of US imperialism and its European partners.”

The campaign against Morejón comes in the midst of similar attacks against Cuban musical group, Buena Fe, which is currently on tour in Spain. Right-wing activists violently disrupted several performances of the group, attacked singer Israel Rojas in a restaurant in Barcelona, and have pressured venue owners to cancel several scheduled concerts.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on June 1 condemning the “siege of fascist hatred of Cuban culture.” The ministry highlighted that, “Cuban culture, which suffers the impact of the inhuman and illegal economic blockade, is the bearer of messages of peace, dialogue and tolerance. It rejects the barbarism, hatred and violence that the imperialist monopolistic interests of the United States and some of its allies are trying to impose.”

In the statement, the Foreign Ministry affirmed that “Cuba will not stop presenting its culture in any corner of the world and will respond with firmness and unity to every aggression.”

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