A Cuban spy in politics, culture and art in Mexico

On February 14, at 7:00 p.m., the book "Do not Forget": Teresa Proenza (1908-1989). A Cuban spy in politics, culture, and art in Mexico, by historian Xavier Guzmán Urbiola will be presented in the Sala Adamo Boari of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

Teresa Proenza. Image: DCubanos
Teresa Proenza. Image: DCubanos

"I wrote it from affection, I'm not interested in prosecuting anyone, I do it as a historian," said Guzmán Urbiola, who met Proenza and struck up a friendship with her for several years.

Among anecdotes, stories, events, and information revealed so far, Xavier Guzmán Urbiola delves into the enigmatic life of Teresa Proenza.

Nobody had gathered this information, the book is made with first-hand sources, such as the Proenza file, which is housed in the National Center for Research, Documentation, and Information of Plastic Arts (Cenidiap) of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL), as well as its file in the Federal Security Directorate (DFS).

80 percent of what is mentioned is unknown, many people who had access to the manuscripts, and now the book, is amazed at the number of episodes and events it contains. It is full of surprises, said Guzmán Urbiola.

Teresa Proenza

Teresa Proenza was born in Cuba in 1908 and died in 1989 in Mexico; her career covers almost the 20th century. "I tried to make the story of a typical Communist militant, with all its commitments, dreams, disenchantments, self-criticism and changes in approaches."

She has to live very unique situations of the twentieth century and treats outstanding people. she leaves Cuba because of a bombing of her house, for the communist militancy of her brothers.

The year was 1932, the sons fled to Colombia, and the parents sent their sister Caridad to Guatemala, while Teresa and Juana Luisa went to Honduras.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

In 1933, Teresa arrives in exile in Mexico. It is the end of the maximato and principle of cardenismo. She is involved in various movements, is an activist and correspondent in the Spanish Civil War. During the Battle of Teruel sends collaborations to Cuban newspapers.

Later, in 1945, she met Narciso Bassols, Enrique González Martíne, and Diego Rivera, with whom she began to establish closer and closer relations of friendship; although they differ in politics, they admire the artist very much.

Xavier Guzmán comments that Teresa Proenza told him that knowing Diego was the "balm that helped her overcome her sectarianism".

She also becomes a friend and confidant of Frida Kahlo; Shortly before Kahlo died, Proenza becomes secretary of Diego Rivera, who gives her an appointment to develop her work and protect her from her activities as an agent.

Frida Kahlo with Teresa Proenza, 1952. Photo of Bernice Kolko
Frida Kahlo with Teresa Proenza, 1952. Photo of Bernice Kolko

After January 1959, as a cultural and press attaché of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico, she passed information to prominent communists and it was up to Lee Harvey Oswald, who requested a visa to enter the island.

It has never been clear if this meeting was casual. However, that fact marks her, and Winston Scott, head of the CIA in Mexico, leaks false information that will cause her to return to Cuba, where she is arrested as soon as she gets off the plane and they put her in house arrest for three years.

It was not until 1985 when she returned to Mexico, that, on the occasion of the preparations for the centenary of Diego Rivera, celebrated in 1986, Xavier Guzmán affirmed: "I had the fortune to meet her and treat a generous being, as well as being wonderful and enigmatic.

"My friendship relationship with her was very spontaneous. She donated her file to the INBAL Cenidiap, "added Guzmán Urbiola.

In an entertaining talk, Diego Rivera and the experience in the USSR were asked for an article about Teresa Proenza for the catalog.

When he finished his text, they informed him that the file on Proenza formed by the DFS was at his disposal. Consulting him was an opportunity that he did not miss and it was from this that the base of the investigation of the book that appears next Thursday, February 14, is revealed. It was an exciting investigation, concluded Xavier Guzmán.

Links with China

For his part, Alberto Híjar Serrano, a researcher at Cenidiap, said that this work is the first historical research on a fundamental character for the history of America and the world.

He mentioned the work that Teresa Proenza did as secretary of press and culture of the Embassy of Cuba in Mexico, fulfilling important relationship work and information with prominent personalities from socialist countries throughout Latin America.

She maintained an excellent relationship with such disparate men, such as Lázaro Cárdenas and Lombardo Toledano, in strict compliance with her responsibilities as a diplomat of a revolution.

She met very diverse people, Catalan anarchists, European refugees from Nazism, all of which made her have a network of extremely rich social relationships.

The book claims a character suspected of espionage, especially for her dealings with Chinese diplomats when diplomatic relations with Mexico were restored, at a time when the Sino-Soviet conflict was about to unleash a world war.

As a friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, she also interacted with the characters that came to the Blue House, as part of their duties to establish a good relationship that would favor the interests of the Cuban Revolution in progress.

After her departure to Cuba and return to Mexico, she established an intimate relationship with Xavier Guzmán and his group of young historians who organized meetings, seasoned with the excellent cocktails that Teresa Proenza knew how to prepare, commented Híjar Serrano.

It is a very rigorous book because of what she is dealing with and has the discipline that every historian should have, "every three lines there is an asterisk with reference to the many interviews he had to do first hand or to the files he appealed to.

"Xavier Guzmán did a great job of history, exemplary for those who cultivate these dimensions that are to be called microhistories. How history can be concretized in a character of active wealth as important as Teresa Proenza was ".

In this line of history, worked in this way, the excellent work of Xavier Guzmán is located, said the researcher.

The work of Xavier Guzmán has a lot of narratives that seem to be a detective story, because of the relationship and the origins of the people with whom Proenza established relations.

"It raises open questions that hopefully force to open in definitive the documents that Diego Rivera left in the Blue House with the intention of uncovering them 50 years after his death, a date that already happened and everything is protected so that we do not know".

Now, that apparently we are for the recovery of the historical memory, to make the total history, we will have to incorporate all these incidents. I wish this important dimension was taken care of. I will raise my hand to raise that problem, said Híjar Serrano.

The original text of this article was published by the DCubanos at the following address.

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