When the Secret Police came to artist Guilliermo Portieles’ house in Havana in Febuary of 1989, he knew he was in trouble…and he knew why. The roots of his crime began in his childhood, in the suburb of the capital city, when he refused to go to the regular school with the other children.
Guillermo was born a Cuban “Havanero” – of Marianao– to campesino parents,in 1963, not very long after the revels takeover of the island. His early childhood was typical of farming-class Cubans of that era: A few hours of schooling each day, some hours helping on the family house, all of it mingled with lazy hours playing with friends in the humid Cuban sunshine. But early on he discovered the pleasure of drawing — first, with crayons onscavenged paper, then with brushes and paints on paper, or wood, or anything he could find — and by the time he was entering his teen years, his painting endeavors occupied him so much that he ceased playing with his peers, gave up sandlot “futbol” games (soccer), and virtually secluded himself in the pursuit of his artistic potential. Guillermo’s father (Lazaro) didn’t think much of his son’s goals. The life of an artist, a painter, wasnot a thing he wanted to encourage in his son. Nor did his mother (Ramona) view such a life as the best outcome for her child. But she did love him dearly, perhaps especially among her children, and wanted him “only to be happy.” If art was the thing that made him happy, then that much she would grant him. After all he was her youngest.
Under the Goverment, Cuba’s public school system was built on the Soviet Russian model: basic schooling to age 14, then tracked toward higher education in specialized fields, if you had the talent, or into the working trades if you didn’t. The school nearest Portieles’s home didn’t offer the higher fields, and the only foreign language it taught was Russian, so he begged his parents to let him transfer to a school outside his district that taught English. Thanks to a sugestion froma kindly neighbor, he began to pursue the sturdy of Art.During this time he met a professor of art, Eriberto Manero who took him is an aprendice ,like many others, to prepare them for the entrance exam to“San Alejandro” in Havana Later, in 1986, he graduated from said School of Arts– with the equivalent of a B.A. in the U.S. university system — and won permission to enroll for post-grad work in the Institute Superior of Arts in Havana (ISA). Unfortunally he was unable to graduate due to his radical views For the next few years, while working in art teaching positions at Havana and attending school, he continued to develop his artistic vision, always searching for subject matter and viewpoints that spoke from his heart and mind to the beholders of his work. And that was what got him into trouble.
By early 1990, Guillermo Portieles had strayed from the accepted and safe arena of Cuban “Revolutionary Art.” Increasingly, his work depicted visions that were — to say the least — less than wholly admiring of the goverment and the communist system. While scheching the images of the Revolution leader accentuating the culture personality, therefore, aginst “popular” believe stated a downware spiral culmitnating with his arrest.
The charge against Guillermo was “Propaganda Politica” (political propaganda), a very serious crime at the time,.having to choose exile With help from his family, the artist went to Panama, a country with friendly relations with Cuba. From there, he flew to the Dominican Republic Where he obtained a teaching position at UCE (East Central University). Unfortunately, the George H.W. Bush-appointed U.S Ambassador in the D.R. denied him a visa as a refugee. After living and working for a year there, and with a change in the U.S. administration from Bush to Clinton — a year in which his mother past away in Tampa, not being able to be at her bedside — the new U.S. Ambassador granted him an entry visa to the States, where he had other relatives. In 1991, he landed in Miami, where friends drove him overland to Tampa.