“Cuban dissidents need to unite and have a national project.”
By Yusimi Rodriguez
HAVANA TIMES — Ogsmande Lescayllers lived twenty years outside of Cuba (1990-2010). The reason: he was accused of being a counter-revolutionary, when he was a professor at the University of Havana.
Ogsmande: I am not a Communist and I made this well-known. I am a Christian. I questioned the fact that we didn’t study any other philosophy except for Marxism. I was accused of undermining the Revolution, and put on trial, without even having a defense attorney. They sentenced me to ten years, I only did a year and a bit in jail. When I got out, I couldn’t get a job. Now I am a Spanish and French national. I left Cuba in 1990.
HT: Outside of Cuba, he added a Masters in International Economic Relations, Tourism Companies Management and Administration, and Graduate in Political Sciences to his titles as a Doctor in Law, Graduate in Art History and Latin American Literature. He was the Head of the Financial Department at Planeta publishing group, Head of the Training and Marketing Department at City Groups and a Correspondent for Diario Las Americas newspaper. He owns an import export company and the Caliban publishing house.
However, above all else, Ogsmande is a writer and has published over thirty books.
Ogsmande: I write out of spiritual need. Not to get them published or to win awards. I don’t know why or who for.
HT: He came back to Cuba in 2010, to look after his sick father, in Bayamo. He decided to stay and hasn’t had any problems. The redtape is pretty simple (for whoever has 100 CUC). The person needs to prove that they haven’t taken part in any hostile act against the Cuban government, have a home or prove that they will be put up by a family member, and go to Emigration with two 50 CUC stamps in order to fill out the application papers. The Cuban government reserves the right to repatriate Cuban emigre citizens or not.
Ogsmande: I wanted to work and they were going to let me write for a cultural magazine. The Party Secretary told me: “you will be watched.” I responded: “watch me; I will be watching you too.” I quit. I haven’t gone to ask for work again.
For there to be good readers
HT: How does the publishing world work outside of Cuba?
Ogsmande: I belong to a publishers association in Spain. I was the representative of the Oceano publishing house in Madrid, the Head of the Commercial Department at Pasacalpe, and I founded Caliban Editores. Books are a business, like film is art, industry and a business. The biggest publishers are almost always interested in more well-renowned intellectuals. It seems cruel to me, because many of them don’t say much now, even though they had a great book once upon a time, while young talented writers remain unheard of. Small publishers launch them; when they become slightly in-demand, then big publishers show interest.
HT: However, some Cuban writers have managed to reach large publishers when they were still practically unheard of.
Ogsmande: Political subjects work a little. They started publishing Zoe Valdez because she was a political figure. Padura isn’t, but this world has captured him and turned him into a political figure. Moreover, they are good writers, like Pedro Juan Gutierrez. But the publisher isn’t only interested in this. There are good writers who don’t sell, and publishers want to sell. The luck factor is also important. I believe that literature written in Cuba is some of the best in America, but it needs to be spread around the world.
HT: Is there room for poetry at large publishers?
Ogsmande: People read a lot of poetry in the world. It’s short stories that don’t sell. However, poets need to know how to make a good selection of their texts. At Caliban, we give our authors some proposals, as publishers, about what would sell more and what wouldn’t, without imposing ourselves. The author pays around 300 euros; the first edition is made up of 500 copies, and they make back three times their investment. We hold several book launches; all copies are sold at these events. There is also the opportunity to publish an e-book; the money that every book sold makes goes directly back to the author, the publisher doesn’t earn anything.
HT: And what if the publisher considers a book to be bad; do they publish it anyway, to make money? Do they reject books?
Ogsmande: We tell authors to work on it a little more, we help them. We guide them. We don’t rewrite books. Rejecting a book is disrespectful. Our interests not only lie in making money (which is very little), but in spreading literature.
HT: I understand that people want to read less and less and faster and faster. Here, at book fairs, more cookbooks, souveneirs and other things are being sold than literature itself. I have heard people say that they go to the fair to have a walk around and eat chicken. Is the reader an endangered species?
Ogsmande: On the contrary. But, in order for there to be good readers, there needs to be good literature. It’s been a long time since I went to a book fair. I went to Granma’s last year and it was a disaster, really badly organized. I have gone to fairs in Frankfurt, Guadalajara… The book fair in Madrid lasts three months. People eat, of course, but lines for books are extremely long. On the metro, you can see people with their book, or they read on their tablets, phones. Here, we have lost our enchantment with reading, which can’t be brought back with the ring of a bell. I repeat: we need good literature. These books of speeches, about whether I went to war and took three shots… This isn’t literature.
If something is going to change…
HT: Do you still think the same thing about the system like you did 20 years ago?
Ogsmande: Everything changes. We have to change and I believe that the Cuban State can. The only way to stay in power is by changing things.
HT: Do you think the Cuban government could remain in power, if it allowed political parties which exist to participate in free elections, with freedom of speech?
Ogsmande: If they did it properly, yes. If I refuse to change, I am against those who want to change, which are the majority. Maybe, they go to elections and they get a high level of support; maybe, not. That’s democracy.
I have my own understanding about this. It’s a puppet show: in Spain the Popular Party goes up, the Socialist Party (PSOE) goes down. In the US, the Republicans and Democrats keep the balance. Here, there is only one party. There are others but they aren’t recognized. Worse yet: not recognizing something which exists is like walking through a forest without seeing the trees.
HT: You claimed, in an article, where you criticized Yoani Sanchez, that the Cuban people chose their destiny 50 years ago. Does that not contradict what you just said: that the majority want change?
Ogsmande: Maybe the word “people” isn’t the most apt in this case. I believe that Cuba’s political game must take place in Cuba. It won’t be the United States, nor Spain, nor the EU, nor Latin America that is going to change our country. If something is going to change, it will be Cubans here who do it.
Those who live abroad can support them and help. However, those who really need to tackle this situation head on are those that live here, because they know what life is here. I am also against the US embargo, because it’s the Cuban people who suffer.
HT: Do you think that the embargo is the only thing to blame for our economic problems?
Ogsmande: It has its influence. However, the main ones responsible for our ineffectiveness are those at the top and those at the bottom. People accept their jobs, for a high or low income, and they are doing it badly; or they steal things to sell them. How can an avocado cost 10 pesos; a pound of tomatoes, 15 pesos, and a pound of pork 25, 30, 40 pesos, if nearly everyone’s salary is between 300 and 500 pesos? A beer costs 1 CUC (25 pesos) or more. The State goes along with this situation.
HT: In an article, you claim that the changes made by Raul Castro were the right ones and that they weren’t superficial. How have the people benefited?
Ogsmande: Now you can buy and sell houses, cars, have a passport although they don’t necessarily give you a visa to enter another country; that isn’t Raul’s fault. He started off well; I wrote that article when he came into power. However, the economic system is a failure. He spoke about updating it, when?
I wanted to invest at a time when the Cuban people couldn’t. Now, I don’t want to. You need to put the money into a Cuban bank; they give you your employees. The first thing they told me was that there was a list. I told them that I would choose my own employees, because it was me who was paying them. But, I couldn’t pay them directly.
HT: Did you want to hire foreigners (like what happened at the Hotel Manzana de Gomez) or Cuban residents here?
Ogsmande: Cubans here; they’re the ones who need the money.
HT: What do you think about the Cuban opposition?
Ogsmande: There isn’t a united front. Diversity is one thing, but walking around scattered about is another. The Cuban dissidence needs to unite and have a national project. And more importantly: not wait for others to come and solve our problems.