Archiving Censorship in Latin America

Featured Banned Books


Ganarse la muerte (1976)
Griselda Gambaro

1976 Ediciones de la Flor Book Cover.
1976 Ediciones de la Flor Book Cover. Source: El cuenco de plata
Sara Facio Antológica photograph
Photo by Argentinian photographer Sara Facio. Source: Sara Facio Antológica (1960-2005). Fundación OSDE.

Griselda Gambaro (1928- ), an esteemed Argentinian writer, faced the banning of her novel Ganarse la muerte (To Earn One’s Death) just one year after its initial publication in 1976. Gambaro has also contributed significantly to the realm of theater in Latin America, having penned various plays that have now been translated to English.

Against the backdrop of a state of siege that gripped the nation, the National Executive Power issued Decree 1101 in 1977, which claimed that Gambaro’s work offered

“a nihilistic position towards morality, the family, the human being and its society”

The decree also commanded the federal police to confiscate all copies of the book, thereby imposing a ban on its distribution. Furthermore, the decree mandated a temporary closure of the printing press Ediciones de la Flor for a period of 30 days.

Opening paragraphs of Ganarse la muerte [To Earn One’s Death]

En español (cursiva en el original)

Infancia. Antes, el nacimiento, la palmada en las ancas para que comience la vida redentora. La madre, con las piernas abiertas, como en una copulación invertida donde nada entra. El padre, sufriendo afuera, la expectativa, el nuevo ser, ¡qué maravilla! Y la pregunta: ¿será torturado o torturador? Nacen juntos, gritan al mismo tiempo. Después, el grito sólo será de uno, ¡qué maravilla! Hijito mío, hijito mío, un día nacerá el negro o rubio que te golpeará los testículos. ¡Ay, si uno pudiera saber! Prevenirse de antemano. La elección es obvia, pero, ¡tan difícil! Una eternidad de sujeción para que mueras dócilmente, hijito mío. ¡Ay, si uno pudiera saber! No dejar el cumplimiento de los gestos, matar al enemigo. Sofocar ya, desde la cuna, el primer vagido, los ojos ciegos, el cuerpo inerme. La única inocencia.

¿Cuál de los dos? Nacen juntos, gritan al mismo tiempo. ¡Ay, si uno pudiera saber! Pero nada se sabe en esa gran incógnita, ¡qué maravilla!, el misterio de la vida. Ya empieza ahí: en la elección, ganarse duramente la muerte, no dejar que nadie la coloque sobre nuestra cabeza como una vergüenza irreversible.

Matar la paciencia.

Griselda Gambaro, Ganarse la muerte, Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 1976, p. 9.

In English (originally in italics)

Childhood. But before, birth, the kick in the haunches so the redeeming life starts. The mother, with her legs open, like in an inverted copulation where nothing enters. The father, suffering outside, the anticipation, the new being, how wonderful! And the question: will he become a tortured soul or a torturer? Both are born simultaneously, both scream at the same time. Then, the scream will belong to only one of them, how wonderful! My little son, my little son, one day the one who will kick your testicles will be born, whether black or white. If only one could know! To be prepared in advance. The choice is obvious, but it is so difficult! An eternity of restraint for you to passively die, my little son. If only one could know! To prevent the completion of the gesture, to kill the enemy. To suffocate now, from the crib, the first cry, the blind eyes, the defenseless body. The only innocence.

Which one of them? Both are born simultaneously, both scream at the same time. If only one could know! But we know nothing about such a big question, how wonderful!, the mystery of life. It starts right there: in the choice, earning one’s death harshly, rendering it impossible for anyone to place it upon our heads like an irreversible shame.

To kill the patience.

Curator’s translation


A borboleta branca (1968)
Cassandra Rios

1980 Livraria Exposição do Livro Book Cover
1980 Livraria Exposição do Livro Book Cover. Source: Levy Leiloeiro

The history of the censorship of Cassandra Rios’ work offers interesting nuances. First, it is useful to examine some numbers. Between 1970 and 1974, 21 literary works were censored in Brazil, while between 1975 and 1979, 300 were censored, primarily under the classification of being pornographic books (23). On the other hand, within just three days (between October 27 and 30, 1975) the DCDP censored the first three books of President Ernesto Geisel’ government, all of which were written by Cassandra Rios (105). Similarly, during the months of February and March 1976, 10 novels by the author were censored.

Secondly, Londero explains that during this period there was a shortage of censors, and the government made multiple efforts to recruit and train censorship technicians. Once hired, they were trained to follow guidelines for assessing the quality of novel endings and the values they promoted or did not promote. The State attempted to systematize and legalize censorship, resulting in the creation of the “Normas doutrinarias da censura federal” or the Decree 1077 of 1970, which can be read here.

Cassandra Rios (1932-2002)
Cassandra Rios (1932-2002). Source: A Capibara
A Borboleta Branca Book cover

The censor’s ruling that negatively qualified the novel A borboleta branca (1968) [The White Butterfly] by Rios was as follows:

“The central theme is female homosexuality, presented in a meticulous and shocking manner, and the author values such a relationship as it were something ‘fantastic and incomparable'”

Lastly, it is worth noting that Cassandra Rios, as well as Adelaide Carraro, were not even esteemed among their peers, who considered their work to be too popular. In a sense, these critics served as another form of censorship, aligning with or silently accepting the State’s prohibition of their works. According to Londero, the “eroticism of the poor” that Rios depicted in her books was discomforting for both the intellectual elite and the State (Londero, “Intelectuais” 146).

Opening paragraphs of A borboleta branca [The White Butterfly]

Em português

Uma jovem entrou na sala, cumprimentando num gesto espalhafatoso todos que ali estavam.

Paula olhou para ela, analisando-a num relance. Uma garôta precoce que tentava encobrir a pouca idade sob a espêssa massa do maquilage. Tinha olhos lanceiros e ares de Messalina. 

– Quem é essa garôta? -perguntou ao cunhado.

– É Fernanda, minha filha, difícil seria reconhecê-la, não é? Está uma môça.

Paula teve má impressão, algum sentimento que provocava vergonha ou indignação. Olhou-a com atenção e foi-se aproximando passo a passo, observando-a, quase não acreditando, achando impossível aceitar que aquela fôsse a sobrinha que vira pela última vez, ainda quando usava fraldas. Aquela carinha de anjo, que fôra a coisa mais linda e mais amada por todos, transformada assim. Quis reconhecer no colorido da pintura, na expressão do olhar, nos gestos, na própria impressão que emanava dela, alguma coisa, um único traço que lembrasse aquêle nenê que ela julgava rever um dia transformada em uma belíssima jovem, porém não assim quase vulgar, ou mesmo ridícula.

Fernanda, por sua vez, olhava-a curiosa, cerrando as sobrancelhas e tremendo os cílios. A pergunta que ela fêz comprovou a sua liberdade de expressão e desembaraço, ou mais acertadamente, a pouca educação que soubera desprezar:

Quem é essa? Por que me olha assim? Sou alguma coisa rara?

Rios, Cassandra. A borboleta branca. São Paulo: Hemus – Livraria Editora Ltda., 1968, pp. 7-8

In English

A young woman entered the room, greeting everyone there with an exaggerated gesture.

Paula looked her way, taking her in with a glance. A precocious girl who tried to cover her youth with a thick layer of makeup. She had piercing eyes and the airs of Messalina.

— Who is that girl? -she asked her brother-in-law.

— It’s Fernanda, my dear, you can barely recognize her, can you? She’s all grown up.

Paula had a bad impression, a kind of feeling provoked by shame or disdain. She looked at her carefully and approached slowly, observing her, finding it impossible accept that she was the niece that she’d last seen when she was in diapers. That sweet little angel face, she who had been the prettiest and most loved by all, now transformed. She tried to recognize some trace in the garish makeup, in her gaze and her gestures, in the very expression that emanated from her, of the girl that she expected to see transformed one day into a beautiful young woman, but not like this almost vulgar or even ridiculous figure.

Fernanda, on the other hand, looked at her with curiosity, knitting her brow and batting her eyelashes. She asked a question that revealed her free spirit and lack of modesty, or perhaps even more, her bad manners:

Who is that woman? Why does she look at me like that? Am I some strange thing?

Translation by Professor Ellen W. Sapega

And here you will find a short video about Rios by the Brazilian YouTuber Louie Ponto.


Tres Tristes Tigres (1967)
Guillermo Cabrera Infante

2022 Alfaguara Book Cover.
2022 Alfaguara Book Cover. Source: AbeBooks
Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005), photographed by Ida Kar in 1964.
Source: National Portrait Gallery, London ©

Cabrera Infante’s Tres tristes tigres [“Three Trapped Tigers”] was a transnationally censored book. Firstly, despite the literary significance of this Cuban writer, he was excluded from the Diccionario de Literatura Cubana (1980) by the cultural authorities of the island, and his importance has been timidly acknowledged in the national literary realm. Additionally, his polyphonic and experimental novel from 1967, which celebrates music, literature, and nocturnal life, faced censorship in Franco’s Spain.

Around 1959, Cabrera Infante directed the newspaper supplement “Lunes de Revolución”, which was later closed due to political disagreements with the Communist Party. Following this incident, he served as a cultural appointee in Brussels from 1962 to 1965. However, in 1968, he resigned his position and sought political asylum in England after publicly criticizing the Cuban regime.

Tres tristes tigres was awarded the Premio Biblioteca Breve Seix Barral in 1964. The book’s editor, Carlos Barral, asked Cabrera Infante to travel to Madrid to edit the manuscript. It was there that he learned that his book had been censored and required significant changes in order to be published. A 120-page manuscript titled Vista de amanecer en el trópico transformed into the 450-page Tres tristes tigres. It finally obtained the censor’s approval in 1966. And the text Vista de amanecer en el trópico also existed on its own, being published in 1974.

vista del amanecer en el tropico book cover
vista del amanecer el en tropico book cover
Vista del amanecer en el tropico book cover

In the appendix of the 2017 Seix Barral edition of the book, titled “What this book owes to its censor”, Cabrera Infante describes his censor as someone fixated on references to female bosoms, mentions of the military force, and of the word ‘God’ or religion in general. Concluding this short paratext, Cabrera Infante addresses him:

“Oh, my dear censor! How I would have loved to meet you, you who are my brother, my fellow man, my hypocritical reader. After all, we have both written the same book.”

Tres tristes tigres is, among other things, an example of how certain books ended up being co-authored by the censor.

Beginning of “Los debutantes” [The Beginners], the first section of Tres Tristes Tigres

En español

Lo que no le dijimos nunca a nadie fue que nosotras también hacíamos cositas debajo del camión. Pero todo lo demás lo contamos y toda la gente del pueblo lo supo enseguida y venían a preguntarnos y todo. Mami estaba de lo más orgullosa y cada vez que llegaba alguien de visita a casa, lo mandaba pasar y hacía café y cuando el café estaba servido, la gente se lo tomaba de un viaje y luego dejaban, despacito, la taza, con mucho cuidado, como si fuera de cáscara de huevo, encima de la mesita y me miraban riéndose ya con los ojos, pero haciendo ver que no sabían nada, muy inocentes en la voz, haciendo la misma pregunta de siempre, «Muchachita, ven acá y dime, ¿qué cosa estaban haciendo ustedes debajo del camión?». Yo no decía nada y entonces Mami se paraba frente a mí y me levantaba la cabeza por la barbilla y decía, «Niña, di lo que viste. Cuéntalo todo tal como me lo contaste a mí, sin pena». Yo no tenía ni pena ni cosa parecida, pero no decía nada si no venía a contarlo conmigo Aurelita y entonces siempre mandaban a buscar a Aurelita y ella venía con su mamá y todo y lo contábamos las dos de lo más bien.

Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. Tres tristes tigres. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 2017, p. 23

In English

But what we never told anyone was that we too used to play with each other’s things under the truck. We did tell everything else and all the people of the town heard about it and came and asked us questions and wanted to know all about it. Mommy was proud too and whenever people came to our house on a visit, she’d invite them in for coffee, and when coffee was served they drank it in one gulp and then put the cup, very gently, as carefully as possible on the table as if the cup was made of eggshells and then they all looked at me smiling but pretending not to know anything at all. Afterward they always asked me the same question all sweet and innocent: “Come over here, little girl. Tell me what you were up to under the truck.” I said nothing and then Mommy would stand in front of me and put her hand under my chin and say, “Tell them what you saw, child. Just like you told me, don’t be shy.” I wasn’t shy or anything, but I wouldn’t say a thing unless Aurelita was there and so they always went to look for Aurelita and she came with her mommy and both of us told it all together and as well as we could.

Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. Three Trapped Tigers. Donald Gardner and Suzanne Jill Levine (trans.) New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971, pp. 11-12.

The documentary P.M. (1961), directed by Sabá Cabrera Infante, the brother of the writer, and Orlando Jiménez-Leal, faced censorship by the Cuban government. Here you will find a brief interview with the author discussing the banning of the film, as well as the censored movie itself.