A Nerudian chronicle of the breakup with Yoani, since many people ask me for the facts
The article (not an open letter, not an unburdening, let’s call things by their proper name) that I published a few days ago in Tellus has gone around the world. I would never have imagined it. It was not my objective.
Above all because I have written dozens of books about Cuba, facing problems that Yoani has never faces, books about which only my small “underground” world has spoken. The article intended to say that hereafter I don’t wish to be associated with the figure of Yoani Sánchez. Many have been the disconcerting comments. Many the requests for clarification. I return to the argument to say that one cannot give explanations on Twitter, at least I’m not used to that, I’m unable to carry out such an effort at synthesis. Besides, I haven’t the slightest intention of putting Yoani Sánchez on the dock because the blogger has committed no offense.
The lack of education, the scant recognition, the scarce sensitivity are not prosecutable in a court of law, but only in the old and odd moral world that I habitually frequent.
Yoani Sánchez will continue to live her life and I mine. That’s it. Some journalists ask me for the facts, the motives for this unexpected disassociation, hoping that I shall reveal enormous atrocities. They will be disappointed. I can only tell my experience and the history of a disillusionment that, to some, will not be a “fact” but that for me is enough to sever the relationship.
It all began at Tellus and it is fair that it all end here. The blogger herself contacted me more than seven years ago, writing to me a friendly and informal letter in which she asked me to translate her blog into Italian because she had seen some translations of mine in Tellusfolio, which I had done voluntarily after I discovered her.
Between Yoani and me there has never been an economic rapport, but the sharing of a project and an idea. I realized that she wrote many things that I had always thought and I felt that it would be fair to put aside my small productions to give voice to a courageous blogger.
I began to tour Italy — at my expense — to make known Yoani’s thinking, with her lending herself spontaneously to links from Cuba, translated directly. I went to Turin, Aosta, Viareggio, Pisa, Pesaro, Rome … I don’t remember all the stops in that Yoani-tour. I found Yoani an Italian editor: Rizzoli. Not by myself, true, but with the important collaboration of a noted Italian journalist who, I believe, does not wish to be named, so I won’t name him.
Soon thereafter, Yoani’s blog was acquired by La Stampa and only at that moment was a contractual relationship born between the Turin daily and me, as a translator. Rizzoli had given me the same contract for the translation of “Cuba Libre.” I have never charged a percentage as a literary agent. I was not Yoani’s agent. I hoped to be a friend and an important collaborator.
One day Yoani wrote to me saying that I “should be [her] translator in every Italian publication.” She didn’t keep her word, which would have rewarded my efforts on her behalf, because when she began to collaborate with “Internazionale” I was removed from the working relationship and she didn’t lift a finger to protect me. That was the first friction, which I overlooked, but I was convinced that, if Yoani had wished, things might have been different.
[Translator’s Note: “Internazionale” is a Rome-based weekly that publishes Sánchez columns. The book “Cuba Libre” is a compilation of Sánchez’s columns.]
At this point, Yoani had the great idea to sign a contract with a literary agent who would represent her in Italy. The fact that a paladin of human rights would avail herself of an agent who would protect her economic interests sounds out of tune, but let that pass. Until that moment, I had organized everything, free of charge and as a friend, because that’s how our relationship had been born.
The inevitable occurred. Her agent — Erica Berla — begins to “row against the current” to put me out of the game. I understand her, basically that’s her job, she has found the goose with the golden eggs and wants her to give her 20 percent for each contract, without interference from some dilettante like Gordiano Lupi.
Erica Berla does everything to remove me from the translations and pressures La Stampa to hire a translator she trusts, that is, someone from her entourage. Yoani does nothing to protect me. If I have continued to translate her until yesterday, I owe it only to Mario Calabresi.
[T.N.: Calabresi is the director of La Stampa.]
Yoani’s agent arranges with Rizzoli the reprinting, with Burs Publishing, of “Cuba Libre” and, in order to add 20 pages, she arranges for her translator to be hired, excluding me from a task that I would have wanted. Yoani moves not a finger to protect me; moreover, when I point it out to her, she appears disgruntled and annoyed. Shouldn’t I have been her Italian translator?
Maybe the times had changed. Yoani had become a money-making machine and the only one who didn’t realize it was I. Let’s go to the trip to Italy, made one year ago. I have already talked about the episode with my mother-in-law kept on the staircase, waiting for an answer from [Yoani] about the date of her arrival. I haven’t yet told about how me and my wife placed at least 30 phone calls to Cuba to make sure about the day of her flight. Yoani always refused to answer or gave evasive answers. In addition, her agent did all she could to raise obstacles to the trip. I learned the date of her arrival only two days earlier, not from her but from her Spanish editor.
It goes without saying that this inexplicable behavior caused inconvenience and friction among the organizers of the various events. In the three days of her stay in Italy, Yoani has been cold, unfriendly and aloof, always glued to Twitter, without raising her eyes to the beauty of a land that she was seeing for the first time, while we traveled from Rome to Perugia, to arrive later in Turin and Milan. I asked myself sadly: “Is this the person I have idealized so?”
Among the few things she confided to me was her great economic concern about not exposing herself in the media, because her agent had told her that she risked losing the Ischia Award (which she did not get). Yoani’s presence in Italy proceeded, alternating from posing like a diva to refusing to communicate to tantrums with the press, because she didn’t want to grant interviews. I still remember how small she made me feel in Bergamo, feeding me to the journalists who were there to talk to her alone.
[T.N.: The Ischia International Journalism Award is presented every year in the city of Ischia.]
So far, these are not the “facts” that many journalists have asked me for, but my opinions. Very true, but they’re enough and sufficient to damage a relation of trust. There is a “fact,” however, that I want to write. In an e-mail that circulated in the Web one year ago, the blogger wrote to her agent to tell her that she would not return to Italy to appear at two conferences that paid “only 5,000 euros.”
Yoani wrote to me, saying that the e-mail was false. In addition, she said she was amazed that I could have believed such a trap, set for her. Well, at that time she publicly upheld the version that the e-mail was false, but I’ve always been convinced of the opposite. That e-mail was real and someone had posted it on the Web to force Yoani to do the conferences.
Yoani returned to Rome but the keenest observers will remember that I did not go meet her. Many friends, and the few that care about what Gordiano Lupi writes, realized that for the past year my relationship with Yoani had cracked. I remained silent so I could live in peace and because I had to respect a contract with La Stampa. Basically, if I had resigned, I would have played her agent’s game, but, believe me, I’ve spent one year translating Yoani against my wishes.
Now I can “spill the beans” and “take a weight off me,” because Yoani — with a final baseness — has rescinded the contract with La Stampa because it wasn’t worth her while; they paid too little. But her greatest lack of consideration was that, to me — her Italian translator, he who should have translated her forever — she has said nothing about her decision to cease her collaboration with the Turin newspaper.
I think that I have had enough cause to declare myself deluded by and disillusioned with Yoani Sánchez, who has demonstrated that she likes her economic relations a lot more than her friendly relations, the million-dollar contracts more than ideas, the substantial prizes more than the dissemination of free thought. I have been among the people most responsible for introducing Yoani Sánchez to Italy; I have contributed to promote her image by writing two books about her (free of charge!) and signing dozens of article about her activities (free of charge!)
In return, I have received the ingratitude of the blogger and the repression of the Cuban government, which forbids me and my wife to step on the island, while it allows Yoani to shuttle between Miami and Spain. I confess that I made a mistake. What else can I do?
[Photo is of Lupi with Yoani, and his daughter Laura.]