Padura: Indolent, Looking Downwards

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Leonardo Padura

HAVANA TIMES — I hardly know the writer Leonardo Padura personally. Our only face to face contact was an introduction at the Ballaja Barracks in Old San Juan. However, I’m a regular reader of his work, which I’ve always admired. All of it speaks to a hard-working person, someone who is talented, simple and sincere – all enviable qualities.

Notwithstanding, apparently these fine traits aren’t enough to enable one to say things that are politically balanced, although I must confess that this is an elusive quality in our polarized and passionate Cuban political scene.

A few weeks ago, Padura presented us with his article on Cardinal Ortega, which appeared in two publications — Espacio Laical and Progreso Semanal — that the project for the so-called “orderly transition” (very orderly but with very little transition) have at their disposition for the dissemination of their political arguments.

Needless to say, I agree with Padura in recognizing the right of the Catholic Church to promote its own political plan, about which there is positive information concerning its recent social and political involvement and in its condemnation of defamatory and personal attacks against the cardinal.

If I do not discuss this a great deal here, it’s because I explained my views on that issue in an article several weeks ago at this site, and probably to the same readers who are now reading this.

This is why I am holding myself back more carefully at the part where I think Padura has joined in with a biased and trite line of argument in which he has lowered himself below his own intellectual stature.

Padura is one-sided in his judgment. If we are absolutely faithful to the facts, we should recognize that the cardinal hasn’t been an innocent victim of “cross-fire between extremists,” but one of the gunslingers.

Let’s not forget that this story erupted when the cardinal made an “offensive devaluation” of people who occupied a church immediately before the visit by Pope Ratzinger, and he made those comments in a place as central as Harvard University.

Although the ever-dynamic Cuban Catholic Church spokesperson Orlando Marquez made every effort to show that the cardinal didn’t say what he said – in reality only confirming what he did say. So far the cardinal has not apologized, which actually would have been a somewhat better move. It would have deflated this campaign against him.

But all this would be irrelevant — part of that past that is now reoccurring, as my friend Lichi would have said — if it were not for Padura himself having also become a sniper.

If we read his writing, we find that everything that is fundamentally critical (not critical details, as the novelist asserts, but fundamental criticisms) remains trapped in that same dilemma of dichotomies in which the opponents of the cardinal find themselves.

Thus we heard him speaking insistently of “extremists on the outside and inside” fed by “bitter hatred,” beings immersed in “confrontation and hatred,” “ingratitude and extreme positions” that “only serve to showcase personal roles or, in the worst cases, assure that nothing changes.”

Again we return to that same good vs. bad, virtuous vs. sinners, the loving vs. hateful. It is a Manichean dichotomy all effectively leads us to the future of “hatred and resentment” that Padura wants to avoid while unilaterally praising the cardinal.

Another issue that I do not find very edifying is the indolence of the writer. Padura knows how to scrutinize social reality, and this is why he writes such memorable works. And this is why I know, as Leonardo Boff used to say, all points of view are the view from a point.

The point from which Padura looks at Cuban reality is very different from that of the “hateful extremists.” This is why it’s not so strange that he sees things differently.

Leonardo Padura

Padura is — with all of his merit — a member of the Cuban cultural elite. I don’t have anything against those elites, since I too (from my modest position in the social sciences) used to belong to it. Those elites benefit from a number of delegated rights — ones that I too benefited from — which the “ingrates” don’t have.

It is not the fault of the elite, but the system, and from that selective memory there is always frolicking in the forgotten that relegates even “moments that cannot be forgotten.” I think Padura — indolent and downwards looking — manages to forget.

Let’s recall a few things to understand why there are so many “hatemongers and extremists” and why the members of the cultural elite don’t need to be that way.

It is by virtue of the castrating covenant of the Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC) with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), that these individuals can travel, leave and return to the island without much difficulty, live for a while outside if they require, and sometimes do this with their families.

They can make light criticisms that might even be published in Cuba. They can make money and spend it as they see fit. Many of them are on the list of those who can purchase new cars, and they have Internet access.

Plus, to the great delight some of them, they are frequent guests at those settings of “dialogue, reflection, criticism and social presence” that have opened from the Catholic Church. They form a new bloc ideologically allied to the pro-market opening being implemented by the military.

Globally this isn’t a big deal. These are rights that Cuban immigrants have enjoyed in their adoptive homelands without having to make any political concessions. But in Cuba this involves the status that few enjoy. And of course they don’t enjoy the “hateful and bitter extremists.”

For the “extremists” there are no discussion forums, and when they try to organize them they are harassed and jailed. The slew of accusations leveled against the recent “Festival CLIC” is one example.

Many “extremists” were in prison for years simply for expressing their ideas. Now they are detained for only hours, during which time they are threatened, abused and intimidated. In other words, they aren’t imprisoned for years, but several times a year, something that some spokespeople of the new ideological bloc applaud as steps toward liberalization.

Several “extremists” have died in hunger strikes, and others are trapped and overwhelmed inside their homes by mobs organized by the government. Reinaldo Escobar — an intellectual — was dragged down the street in one of the most disturbing and miserable incidents I have ever witnessed.

They are accused — by the “hatemongers” — of being agents of imperialism, but very few of them have records denoting any kind of complicity with the US government. And those that do, people who are as repressed like everyone else, have never set foot in the offices of the US Interests Section and they oppose the blockade/embargo.

In Cuba there doesn’t exist the right to free movement, therefore various “bitter people” who have been granted visas from foreign countries to attend international events, are denied the right to leave the country. I think that Yoani Sanchez is on her 22nd refusal, meaning that she has only about four blank pages left in her passport and she still hasn’t visited the airport.

The dissident economist Espinosa Chepe was not only refused the ability to leave, but the president of UNEAC, who guarantees rights to the cultural elite, also publicly branded Chepe a mercenary. They would only give him permission to leave if he accepted permanent expatriation and the expropriation of his rights.

It is known that if an emigrant adopts a critical position, it’s very likely that they will be denied the chance to return to or even visit their country.

I know of many cases in which Cubans were denied permission to say goodbye to a dying parent and had to remain far away during the last moments of their mothers and fathers.

Or, they only see their children grow up in photos and videos, separated by a government policy that uses family members as hostages. They eventually die alone — far from their people and their homes — in a situation that for some is exile, emigration for others, and banishment for all of them.

It seems too ambitious to expect these people to tremble with excitement over “attempts to understand” by the cardinal.

I am not criticizing Padura for participating in the very restricted process of “dialogue, reflection, criticism and social presence” that the Catholic Church is organizing in the country. As I see it, it’s a process that attracts everyone – from the very best people to every type of opportunist.

I’m sure that Padura is in that first category, and I only advise him to veer away from the beaten track and to carry to those spaces his advanced messages about life, those which I have had the opportunity to read and enjoy.

I only ask him not to be indolent. And I can refer here to how Padura himself, in one of his excellent essays, defined indolence: “an individual’s insensitivity to the plight of others” or an “inability to feel the pain of the fate of others.”