Comp Lit Scholar at Risk, Jorge Olivera: a Cuban journalist and poet, savors every day life at Harvard

December 13, 2016

Harvard Gazette

Out of ‘the wolf’s mouth’

Scholar at Risk, a Cuban journalist and poet who was once jailed, savors everyday life at Harvard

After working for a decade at the state-run television that endlessly exalted Cuba’s Communist government, journalist to burn the bridges behind him. He quit his job, and in 1993 sent his first dispatch to Radio Marti, the Miami-based station known for its opposition to the Castro regime, knowing all too well that his life would never be the same.

“I knew I was putting my head into the wolf’s mouth,” Olivera said in Spanish during an interview. “But I couldn’t live a double life anymore. I was sick of the abyss between the official truth and the reality.”

Olivera reported for the next decade on what he calls “the other side of Cuba,” with stories that disparaged the regime’s tight grip on Cubans’ everyday life. In response, he suffered a long string of retaliatory government attacks that culminated in his arrest in a 2003 crackdown known as the “Black Spring,” which imprisoned 75 alleged dissidents. Amnesty International described them as “prisoners of conscience.”

Charged with producing “enemy propaganda,” Olivera was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but in 2004 was released on health grounds following international pressure. In 2009, he was invited to come to Harvard as a visiting writer through the Scholars at Risk program, but the Cuban government didn’t give him permission to travel and return to his homeland until last year, a result of the thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States.
Scholars at Risk network

“The government wanted to release me if I left Cuba, but I refused,” said Olivera. “When I go back to Cuba, I know I’ll live with this sword of Damocles hanging over my head.”

Olivera’s sentence hasn’t been commuted, and he hasn’t been pardoned. He follows in the footsteps of other writers who have suffered the wrath of their governments and have been hosted by the Harvard Department of Comparative Literature as scholars at risk. Among them are Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour, Afghan writer Qais Akbar Omar, and Cambodian author Tararith Kho.

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Jorge Gazette