“When someone wishes to criticize Cuba, they don’t have to exaggerate, just tell the truth.”
HAVANA TIMES – Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, recipient of the “Princess of Asturias” Award for Literature (2015), considers his novels “among the most radical documents that could have been written” about Cuba. Today that Cuba is in turmoil, but its problems “must be resolved among Cubans,” Padura recently told EFE.
“I believe that the novels I’ve written – many of them published in Cuba, including The man who loved dogs, Heretics: a novel, or The story of my life -are the most radical documents that could have been written or spoken about this country. That gives me a lot of peace,” the author maintained during an interview with the Spanish-based news agency.
Padura spoke from his home in Havana’s “Mantilla” neighborhood, three weeks after thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest the scarcities and ask for freedom. The author reflected on the extreme polarization regarding the island, which he hopes “can be resolved among Cubans,” including the issue of exile.
“I receive attacks from one extreme and the other with a certain regularity, because I try to be fair and to speak of truths that are generally agreed upon. We already know that truth isn’t absolute; what’s absolute is a lie. And in none of my writing, neither in my novels nor in my articles as a journalist, do I need to make use of lies to speak of Cuba,” he affirmed.
Padura, who is also a distinguished scholar of literature, believes: “When someone wants to criticize Cuba, they don’t have to exaggerate. They only have to tell the truth.”
“I’m at great peace with myself. I can’t satisfy all positions. I don’t want to place myself at any of the extremes. I’m very fearful of fundamentalisms and of extremes, because they spring from the idea that their view is the only possible way to reason. I think there’s always more than one way of seeing things, and that there should be a dialogue among different ways of thinking,” he pointed out.
The protests took Padura by surprise while he was watching the European Cup finals. “All of a sudden, they interrupted the transmission to broadcast the President’s (Miguel Diaz-Canel) speech. That’s when I found out what was happening.”
Shortly afterwards, the authorities blocked internet access, and the information that reached him was confused and “very distorted, very biased, in some cases very aggressive. It was difficult to get your bearings, in terms of what was happening,” he recalled.
A week after the demonstration, Padura described his initial sensations in an article published on the platform La Joven Cuba [“Young Cuba”]. “A howl had been produced from the guts of a society that demanded other ways of managing life in a general sense, where the economic, the social, and the political all come into play…”
The unjustified delay of the economic reforms engendered “something very evident”, the growth of poverty and inequality, as reflected in his 2018 novel: The Transparency of Time.
There, Padura mentions the extremely poor settlements in Havana, where “you discover that this isn’t the country we’ve been working for, dreaming of, which we’ve made so many sacrifices for. Solutions must be found for those people (..)”
In his judgement, the demonstrations channeled people’s feelings of being completely fed up, waiting for a prosperity that never comes. They’re evidence of the lack of communication between those in power and the feelings of the citizens.
“So much so, that I believe that demonstration surprised them. It wasn’t like someone began to yell while standing in line. In many parts of the country, there were people who came out to demand things. To demand freedom for example. It’s very serious when the people cry out demanding freedom.”
It worries the writer that those perceptions, “aren’t being understood and processed in the best way. The social magma is flowing with intolerances and extremes, like we spoke about at first. It could be that these views end up being imposed, and that would be the worst thing.”
“Violent responses aren’t at all the cure this country is needing, this country that isn’t the same as it was a few weeks ago. It’s a different country, and it needs to be managed differently,” he expressed.
Padura also asserted that the events [of July 11] had already been germinating, as evidenced by the concentration of young artists in front of Cuba’s Ministry of Culture last November 27.
“They spoke there of the need for a dialogue, that in the end was reduced to only a few words and very few solutions. When people demand freedom of expression, of thinking, of opinion, they’re demanding something that belongs to them, something I believe can’t be denied them under any system or in any country,” the author stated emphatically.
Regarding all the young people who protested on July 11, Padura warned: “the least desirable [outcome] would be for them to be marginalized, or “even jailed for their social or political position.” In that case, due to the prolonged “bleeding” that the island suffers, many of the most promising youth will end up leaving.
In 1996, Padura became Cuba’s first “independent writer”. He thinks the recent events will end up reflected in his literature, although “probably not directly.”
“I’ve tried for many years to practice my independence and my freedom. I believe that freedom of expression and thought is fundamental for any creator.” He noted, though, that there are limits with regards to “homophobic and xenophobic attitudes, attitudes that are in some way fascist.”
“Also, life is too short for us to limit ourselves in as many ways as we have to limit ourselves within the existing social contract,” Leonardo Padura concluded.