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PEN Case (1967): Ángel Cuadra – Cuba, Imprisoned


Angel Cuadra was born in Havana in 1931 and started composing poetry when he was eight.  In 1954 he was awarded the Martinez Villena prize for a poem entitled Cantos de Amor al Alma Mater or Song of love to Alma Mater.  In 1956 he graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in Law and began to participate in the activities of various anti-Batista organizations.  Two years later his poem Lamento a Jose Marti en su Centenario (A Lament to Jose Marti on his Centenary) won a prize from the Circle of Iberian-American Poets and Writers in New York. 

After the Cuban revolution of 1959, Cuadra began to gain recognition as a poet; his articles and poems were published in national newspapers and his collection Peldaño was also printed.  He gained employment as a government lawyer. He soon became disillusioned with Castro’s Cuba and began to involve himself with the anti-communist underground.  

In April 1967 Cuadra was arrested and charged with being an ‘enemy of and spreading propaganda about the People’s Government’.  He was sentenced to fifteen years incarceration (apparently spared the death penalty due to the ‘lack of proof’ that he was guilty).

When he was released from prison in December 1976, Cuadra sent his poems to the poet Juana Rosa Pita in the United States of America.  In 1977 he was re-arrested and sent back to prison to serve out his original sentence as punishment.  Whilst incarcerated he was awarded the Miami Pluma de Oro prize in 1982.

Cuadra was released in 1982 and traveled to Sweden and Germany, before emigrating in 1985 to the United States to be reunited with his family. He took up a post of professor of Modern Languages at the University of Florida and continues to write and publish poems.

Writing Sample


I have stopped in front of time:

the days come down in vain stalactites

because it’s not exactly a tunnel

but its an emptiness of existence

where everything useless goes rolling into the depths.

It’s like that here… and it’s more than like that.

And it can’t be understood except with our flesh

thrust into this hollow

which is cruelty, as certain

as flour of anguish for the only food.

Hatred had a face only in this enclosure,

This isn’t in the statistics

or the hymns.

I am only the outline of a poem,

between iron bars and shadow,

a voice that they’ve tried to strangle

with mutes…

Your body, shunning contact,

is the space into which fall

the letters of your name,

and time is shattered.

Translated by Donald Walsh in This Prison Where I Live: The PEN Anthology of Imprisoned Writers. Edited by Siobhan Dowd. International PEN (London, 1996). ISBN: 0-304-33306-9

Useful links

Biography of Angel Cuadra including excerpts of his poetry readings:

Inter-American Court on Human Rights referring to Angel Cuadra, 1979: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on the situation of political prisoners in Cuba

Review of Cuadra’s book, ‘The Poet in Socialist Cuba’: Review of Angel Cuadra: The Poet in Socialist Cuba