Our men in Paris?: Mundo nuevo, the Cuban revolution, and the politics of cultural freedom

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Cobb, Russell St. Clair, 1974-

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The Paris-based literary magazine Mundo Nuevo disseminated some of the most original and experimental Latin American writing from 1966--the date of its founding--to 1968, the year its editor-in-chief resigned and the magazine moved to Buenos Aires. Despite its fame, the magazine's role in the Boom and the cultural Cold War has been misunderstood by critics, who have either viewed Mundo Nuevo as a tool for CIA propaganda (it was recipient of CIA funds for two years) or non-political, avant-garde magazine. Mundo Nuevo's founding editor, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, saw the magazine as an outlet for turning Latin American literature in world literature. Mundo Nuevo published essays, interviews and fiction from such writers as Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Because its funding has been traced back to the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom, Mundo Nuevo has also been a lightning rod for political controversy. Since the magazine's inception, Cuban intellectuals denounced Mundo Nuevo as "imperialist propaganda" for the U.S. government. Although Monegal insisted on calling Mundo Nuevo "a magazine of dialogue," it was both financially and ideologically linked to European and American liberalism, which sought, in Arthur Schlesinger's words, to assert "the ultimate integrity, of the individual." Mundo Nuevo's stance toward Cuba became evident in editorials against the repression of artists in Cuba, as well as in the publishing of works by writers who found themselves at odds with the cultural politics of the new regime and in the publication of feature articles highlighting the economic failures of the Revolution. I argue that Mundo Nuevo was neither an instrument of "Yankee imperialism"--as Roberto Fernández Retamar called it in Casa de las Américas--nor a disinterested, politically non-committed "magazine of dialogue," as the journal's editor often claimed. As much of the material from the archives in the Congress for Cultural Freedom demonstrates, Mundo Nuevo was set up by the Congress as a bulwark against the Cuban Revolution, and used the rhetoric of disinterested, cosmopolitan literature to counter the Revolution's model of literature engagée.e