The poet and journalist Raúl Rivero Castañeda was born near Camagüey, Cuba, in 1945. He was among the first alumnae to graduate from the Faculty of Journalism there. In 1969 his first volume of poetry, »Papel de hombre« (t: The role of man), appeared, for which he was awarded a prize by the Cuban writers’ association UNEAC. His second work, »Poesía sobre la tierra« (1972; t: Poetry on earth), also received a prize. Starting in 1973, he worked as a correspondent for the official Cuban news agency in Moscow and as director of their department of Culture and Science, in Havana.
So far Rivero has published ten volumes of poetry which have been translated into eight languages. The poems, written in the cadences of slang, voice unpretentious emotions. Concise descriptions are interfused with a powerful spontaneity, occasionally with dry irony. There exists a cross-fertilization between journalism and poetry, as the author confirms in the preface to his poetry selection »Herejías elegidas« (1989; t: Chosen heresies): »The keenness to say things in as few words as possible is always present, hitherto and henceforth, since poetry and journalism form a synthesis. One is an obvious fact, the other is more intimate. This appeal to communication leads to a form of word measurement, to an obsession with the exactitude of words.«
In 1991 Rivero signed the »Letter of Ten«, a public demand for the political opening of the country, whereupon he was banned from travelling abroad. Nor were any of his books allowed to be published in Cuba after that. In 1995 he founded the independent news agency »Cuba Press«, of which he became director. Two years later he was awarded the »Reporters Without Borders« award. The incipient repressions against Rivero peaked in his arrest in March 2003, and a twenty-year prison sentence. That same year a selection of shorter prose pieces, »Sin pan y sin palabras« (t: Without bread and words), came out. The journalistic sketches present a sad, cautious and angry picture of the gradual decline of a country. This can be seen in »Welcome Mr. Yandy«, for instance, where Rivero calculates the exact number of state-regulated food rations to which every newborn Cuban would be entitled over the course of his or her life. Or in »Killing the Word«, where he asserts that words have been so corrupted through misuse by official language that they no longer have any real meaning.
Rivero’s deteriorating health in the high security prison of Canaleta aroused concern, and in 2004 intellectuals around the world, including Vaclav Havel, Günter Grass and Mario Vargas Llosa, presented an open letter to Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero demanding Rivero’s freedom. After Zapatero’s visit to Máximo Lider, the author was finally released in December 2004. The majority of the other 75 intellectuals who were convicted unjustly along with him remain in custody.
Currently Rivero lives with his family in Madrid. Recently his latest volumes of poetry were published in Spain: »Corazón sin furia« (2005; t: Heart without fury) and »Vidas y oficios« (2005; t: Lives and professions).
© international literature festival berlin
Translator: Peter B. Schumann