Cuba Headlines

Cuba News, Breaking News, Articles and Daily Information

Dra. Maria Dolores Ortiz, a famous figure
«The viewers pay attention to the pen, the clothes, if they combed my hair well or not. People notice all that. They also told me that I am the one who answers the most. And thats not true. That depends on many things because sometimes ones knows the answer already, but it is someone elses turn to speak.»

For the Cuban people, Dr. Maria Dolores Ortiz is a very popular character. For 37 years, she has been the only woman among the members of the Write and Read program, one of the oldest programs in the history of Cuban television.

This refined, very happy woman of gentle and slow speech, and an enviable memory, mother of two daughters and grandmother of numerous grandchildren works as a consultant for the Higher Education Ministry and is the president of the Friends of the Book Movement.

"You have said that you lost count of how many books you have read in your life. How many books do you read currently?

"More than one a week.

"Who introduced you to this reading habit?

"I was born and raised in Holguin, which was not a capital at that time. There was not even a public library, and nobody cared about reading. Institutionally, I mean. My family played a decisive role. My father was a lawyer and my mother was a teacher during her youth, when she was single, because he didnt want her to work.

«Not reading enough limits peoples vocabulary. Thats why there are people who always use the same words because they dont have any other way to express themselves. Perhaps, our classes of humanistic subjects in the school dont develop these skills enough. We would have to check what is done in the Spanish, Literature, and History classes.»

"What did you study?

"I have a PhD. in Philosophy. I was teaching classes until a short time ago, when I began to suffer throat problems. I taught for more than 40 years. I started before 1959, in a private school, teaching Spanish to high school and commerce students. Then, I passed on to the University of Havana.


Dr. Ortiz came to Havana like many other young people at that time, looking for a University diploma. She arrived at the University on October 1953, just a few months before the assault on the Moncada Barracks, an event that marked her for the rest of her life.

«That defined my life as a revolutionary. Then, I decided that wherever Fidel go, I would follow him.»

"Did people talk about politics in your home?

"My father was fanatic about politics. He was not a politician, but several times people asked him to stand and he never wanted to. But when I was little, he took me to party meetings; I got used to reading newspapers, to listen to grown up peoples conversations. I loved all that.

"Did you ever get involved in the revolutionary struggle?

"I was a combatant in the clandestine struggle. I sold bonds, got medicines for the Sierra Maestra, produced materials that were printed in different places to be distributed later.

«Once, I had to go with another comrade to rent an apartment in Vedado, which was later use as a clandestine house. These were the things that so many people did. Nothing out of the ordinary.»

"How did your father let you come alone to Havana to study?

"Everybody came. Well, those who could afford it. For as long as I can remember, I and my sister were always inculcated that we would come to the capital to study. My father had studied here, and that was always his wish.

«He didnt have money, he was lawyer and professor. Many people criticized him in Holguin because instead of devoting himself to acquiring goods, since he had the idea of sending his two daughters to Havana to study "you needed to have lots of money to do that", he bought the house where we lived when we were little so as not to pay rent, and then, devoted himself to give us a very good life, but always bearing in mind that we had to study in the University, which cost an arm and a leg. And he had two daughters, imagine!

«He said that the inheritance he wanted to leave us was a university diploma to each of us. Then, if we didnt have to use it "which at the time meant getting married to a well-off man", it didnt matter. But if necessary, that was the way of guaranteeing us a more comfortable life.»

"When did you finish your major?

"After the triumph of the Revolution because I was at the middle of my major when the University closed.

"Do you do any type of exercise to keep your memory in such «good shape»?

"No. It may be innate. My parents were both people with a very good memory. There may be a genetic element. But, for instance, in the school where I studied, lots of things were done to train the memory, even though the teaching system was not mainly based on learning by heart. It was a very good school, with an excellent staff, despite being so far away from the capital. I have the best memories of all my professors.

«None of them taught me anything to be learned by heart, but they did teach me other things, both manners and education. At that time, one didnt study by the notebook, as people do today, but from the textbooks.

«I remember that there were lots of spelling competitions in primary school and that all the students participated. Student needed to learn a certain number of words that would be dictated later in a paragraph, and there were prizes and incentives for the children with the best results.

«There were also reciting competitions, with very long poems, such as Los zapaticos de rosa (The pink little shoes), by Cuban and Latin American authors. I think that all this contributed to having a good memory.»

"You also speak several languages...

"I speak English, French and Portuguese. As I havent practiced them a lot in the last years, I read them. It was different with German. I was a very good student in the two years I studied it, but its a very difficult language. Ive almost forgotten it.


"Who were the founders of the Write and Read program?

"Drs. Dubouchet, Galis-Menendez and I. And Cerero Brito was the presenter. Then came Daranas. But we have had many others. This program requires a special presenter because they must prepare them self very well.

«Besides, people must bear in mind that this is a non-rehearsed program. What you see on the TV was what really happened. There cannot be a rehearsal because otherwise we would know the answer.»

"Now that the program is recorded, its production must be easier.

"No way...! When we did it live, we finished faster. Technical advances have their advantages, but also disadvantages. For instance, if the little watch used by Calderon to mark the mistakes breaks down, the technician has to come and fix it. If not, we must to make up a shot where the watch doesnt appear, so we can edit it later. Its very complicated. It can be an out-of-order microphone, a misplaced light, or a plant that covers our face.

"Why do you smile when you say «after the Middle Ages»?

"I smile at other moments too. I try to smile most of the time because I think thats a way of showing the public that Im happy working for them, that Im having fun, and I want to involve them on my state of mind.

«I think that maybe they let me do some things that are not allowed because I am the only woman on the panel, but it would not be the same with a man, that smile, or saying something that softens the program, for it not just academic.»

"Have you ever repeat a theme?

"Over many years, a basic rule was not to repeat the themes. But one day we were told that we had to do it because there were many important questions and a complete generation of viewers had already passed. Then, we agreed to repeat some themes.

"Does someone keep count of the correct and incorrect answers?


"There are programs where you give all the answers; therefore, nobody wins the book. Why dont you encourage that viewer anyway for having sent the question?

"The original idea was to present all the people who send a question and the question was selected with a book. Thats why the program is called Write and Read because you write and then you read a book.

«But the economic crisis came and they set a limit on that. Currently, the organizations that provide us with the books cannot resume that.»

"Do you receive many themes?

"Even from Florida. People watch the program there on Cubavision Internacional.

"A short while ago, you were off the program. We knew that you needed to have an operation and quit smoking.

"Its true that I smoked, and naturally I quit. I have used my voice extensively, I have been teaching, giving lectures and talks for almost fifty years

«The truth is that it was not only the fault of cigarette. The doctor said it was a professional disease. They recommended me to quit teaching regular classes. We teachers must be taught, like the actors and announcers, to place the voice properly. Sometimes we speak more than an announcer, and we hurt ourselves.»

For many years you have been using the same pen, the one with a chain on it. Is it a talisman?

No. I want to make it clear that am not superstitious. I was given this pen a long time ago, and I thought that it would look good on TV. I only use it on the show, but I dont believe it gives me good luck.


Dr. Maria Dolores Ortiz has been granted the Carlos J. Finlay Award, the Underground Combatant Medal, the Medal for the 250th Anniversary of the University of Havana, the Medal for the 40th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Arm Forces (FAR), 15th Anniversary of the Arab Union of Cuba, and the Jose Tey Medal.

She also received the "Use of Virtue" Award, granted by the Jose Marti Cultural Society to persons, groups and institutions that spread Martis ideas.

Dr. Ortiz, who is also the president of the Friends of Books Movement, has published several books, among them, Superior Education in Cuba (1984), Down a Thousand Pathways (articles and essays from 2002), Testimonies and Collection of Works and Annotations by Camila Henriquez Urena, Vol. 3, (Compilation and Preface, published in the Dominican Republic, 2004); brochures, monograph and several articles for Cuban and foreigner readers.

Source: By Dora Perez and Margarita Barrio, Juventud Rebelde.

Related News