Padura: ‘Cuba’s Problems Must be Resolved Among Cubans’

Padura at his home in Mantilla, the Havana neighborhood that saw him grow up, also as a writer. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Lorena Cantó, Havana, August 2, 2021 — The Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, winner of the 2015 Princess of Asturias Prize for Literature, considers his novels “some of the most radical documents that could have been written” about a Cuba today in turmoil, whose problems “must be resolved among Cubans.”

“I believe that my novels, that were written and many of them published in Cuba, such as The Man Who Loved Dogs, Heretics, and A Novel of my Life, are among the most radical documents that could have been written and said about this country. And that gives me much peace of mind,” says the author in an interview with EFE.

At his family home in the Havana neighborhood of Mantilla, three weeks after thousands of people took to the country’s streets to protest shortages and demand freedom, Padura reflects on the extreme polarization that the island is experiencing, which he hopes “can be resolved among Cubans,” including those in exile.

“I frequently receive attacks from one extreme or the other, because continue reading

I try to be fair and speak of truths about which there is a certain consensus. You already know that truth is not absolute; what is absolute is the lie. And in none of my texts, whether in my novels or my journalistic works, do I need the lie to talk about Cuba,” he says.

And it is also correct to say that “when someone wants to criticize Cuba they don’t have to exaggerate, they only have to tell the truth.”

“I’m at peace with myself. I can’t satisfy all points of view. I don’t want to place myself at any extreme; I’m very afraid of fundamentalisms and extremes because they start from the position that their argument is the only possible argument, and I think there is always more than one argument and you should have a dialogue between these arguments,” he says.

Padura was surprised by the protests while he was watching the Eurocup. “Suddenly they cut the transmission and the president (Miguel Díaz-Canel) spoke and I found out what was happening.”

A short time later, the authorities blocked access to the Internet, and the information that came in was confusing and “very distorted, very partial, very aggressive in some cases, and it was hard to find out what was happening,” he said.

His first feeling, which he described the week after the demonstrations in a text published on the La Joven Cuba platform, “was that a scream had come forth from the innermost parts of a society that demanded other ways of managing life in a general sense, and from there entering the economic, the social, the political …”

The unjustified delay in the economic reforms engendered “something that is apparent”: the growth of inequalities and poverty — reflected in the novel The Transparency of Time.

In this context Padura mentions very poor slums in Havana in which “you realize that this is not the country for which we have worked, for which we have dreamed, for which so many sacrifices have been made. We must find solutions for those people . . .”

The demonstrations, in his opinion, channeled the weariness of waiting for a prosperity that never comes, and evidenced the isolation of those in power from the feelings of the citizens.

“So much so that I think they were surprised by that demonstration, because it wasn’t just that people standing in a line started shouting something, it was that in many parts of the country people came out to demand things, to demand freedom for example, and it’s very serious when the people shout demanding freedom.”

The writer is concerned that this feeling “is not being understood and processed in the best way, because there is a social magma in which there are these intolerances and extremes that we spoke of at the beginning, which may be the ones that prevail, and that would be the worst.”

“The violent responses are simply not the cure the country needs; the country is not the same as it was up until 15 days ago. It’s a different country and you have to handle it in a different way,” he says.

He also points out that what happened was already in the making, as demonstrated by the gathering of young artists on November 27 in front of the Cuban Ministry of Culture.

“There they spoke of the need for a dialogue that in the end was met with a few words and very few solutions. And when people ask for freedom of expression, of thought, of opinion, they are asking for something that belongs to them, something that I believe cannot be denied them in any system in any country,” the author emphasizes.

Regarding all those young people who protested on July 11, Padura warns that the “less desirable” alternative is for them to be marginalized or “even imprisoned for their social or political viewpoint” and the prolonged “bleeding” suffered by the Island because many — among them the most educated — end up leaving.

The author, who in 1996 became the first “independent writer” in Cuba, believes that what is happening now will be reflected in his literature, although “maybe not directly.”

I’ve tried to practice my independence and my freedom for many years. I think that for any creator the need for freedom of expression and thought is fundamental,” although with limits regarding “homophobia, xenophobia, the attitudes that are in some way fascist.”

“In addition, life is too short for us to be limiting ourselves in as many things as we have to limit ourselves under the existing social contract,” he concludes.

Translated by Tomás A.


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Official Fervor Towards Fidel Castro Contrasts With the Indifference of Young People / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto

The cult of personality around Fidel Castro has come to take on messianic dimensions, even after his death and supposedly against his will. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Lorena Canto, Havana, 5 March 2017 — A hundred days after his death and although Cuba has limited by law the use of his name and image, the figure of Fidel Castro is more present than ever on the island, where the fervor towards the former president is beginning to take on messianic proportions that have even come to his being compared with Jesus Christ.

Since the death of the leader of the Cuban Revolution last November 25 at age 90, there is no activity, congress or celebration in Cuba that does not include a tribute to Fidel Castro in its program, while the state media also devotes a good part of its space to him. continue reading

A good example of this situation was the recent Havana Book Fair, the most important cultural event of the year on the island. This year’s event was dedicated to Canada and its authors, but the acts and presentations of numerous titles around the figure of Fidel Castro eclipsed the invited country.

The situation contrasts with the last will of the ex-president, made into law last December by the Cuban Parliament: no monuments or public buildings or streets with his name, in addition to a rigorous regulations that shield the commercial use of his figure.

In life, the controversial commander was also opposed to the cult of personality, although paradoxically it was his personal style of exercising authority, which led some to consider him a leader and others to consider him a tyrant.

“The charismatic and messianic figure of Fidel Castro was undoubtedly one of the most popular elements of the Cuban Revolution from its beginnings in the 1950s to at least the first decade of the twenty-first century,” Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International told 14ymedio.

The key is whether the Cuban Revolution can survive without the physical presence of the man who so passionately embodied it.

According to Duany, “the worship of and loyalty to the commander-in-chief became one of the main ideological supports of the Revolution, although his overpowering personality also provoked intense disgust and resentment among his political adversaries.”

The state media, until now, has avoided the word death and replaced it with physical disappearance, a shift reminiscent of the way Fidel Castro used the term biological inevitability.

Paradoxically it was Fidel Castro’s personal style of exercising authority, which led some to consider him a leader and others to consider him a tyrant.

The newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), official organ of the Union of Young Communists, went further on December 25, Christmas day, which marked one month since the death of the Cuban leader: “Time does not devour redeemers,” said the front page, in a veiled parallel with the figure of Jesus Christ.

“Man, we learned to know you eternal. Just like Olofi and Jesus Christ, there is not a single altar without a light for you,” says the chorus of the song composed by Raúl Torres after the death of Fidel Castro, a tune that played unendingly during the nine days of national mourning decreed in Cuba.

Another new constant is the assimilation of the former president with the Cuban independence figure José Martí, father of the country and next to whose tomb in Santiago de Cuba Fidel Castro was interred.

For the moderate opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, what is happening “seems to be against the will of Fidel Castro.”

The state media, until now, has avoided the word death in relation to Fidel Castro, and replaced it with physical disappearance

“It seems that in his last will he did not talk about the media, where his presence is constant. It is a gap they [the authorities of the island] have used, but I think that responds to Cuban society’s capacity to forget,” says Morua, the spokesman of the democratic initiative “Otro 18” (Another 2018), which advocates free elections next year.

In his opinion, the country’s leadership seeks to perpetuate the message of “do not forget the imprint of Fidel Castro” in a society that “has been giving a clear and key answer in that direction, very intuitive, to say that a country must not have a surname.”

Transmitting this message to new generations is a particularly complicated challenge; for an overwhelming majority of young Cubans, the bearded commander is more of a distant figure than an ideological reference point.

In a recent study of Cuban teenagers published by Juventud Rebelde, no respondent mentioned Fidel Castro among their most admired people.

“The poll seems to confirm an erosion in the figure of Fidel among the younger generations of Cubans born and raised after the Revolution, [despite] the government’s efforts to maintain his memory as the undisputed hero of post-Revolutionary Cuba,” Duany concludes.

Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto

The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)
The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)

EFE/via 14ymedio, Lorena Canto, Havana – Private restaurants, popularly known as paladares (palates), are under the scrutiny of the Cuban government, which has temporarily suspended the granting of licenses in the sector due to alleged breaches of rules in a booming industry that perfectly illustrates the new economy of the island.

“There has been very strong growth in a short time and it has gotten out of hand,” the self-employed owner of a very famous private restaurant in Havana told EFE, as she prepared for inspections by the authorities in the coming weeks.

In Cuba where, with the lack of official confirmations, the rumor mill runs riot, a few days ago alarm spread among paladares on hearing that the owners of the most prominent had been called to meetings – by neighborhood – with government officials. continue reading

There they were told that there would be no new licenses for private restaurants in the capital, and that there would be a round of strict inspections to ensure that those now in operation were complying with the law: no more than 50 seats, respect for the established hours, and provisioning only with products purchased in state stores for which they can show the receipts.

“The atmosphere is now very unclear,” another owner of a pioneering paladar, who also asked not to be named, told EFE.

So, the dining industry’s private proprietors, awaiting the dreaded inspections, fell into a paranoid spiral, which included hiding any merchandise not obtained through official means and redoing the menus to include only dishes and drinks made with ingredients for which they can show the receipts.

Bottles of premium liquor that came to Cuba in a suitcase, exotic ingredients or the celebrated lobsters, almost impossible to acquire by legal means and bought directly from fishermen, remain under lock and key these days, waiting for the dust to settle.

The problem is that the regulations governing self-employment, which are part of the economic reforms introduced by Raul Castro in the last decade, still have large gaps, like the lack of rules governing private workers on the communist island, or a wholesale supply market.

“It’s about sorting out a sector that started out as a part of the family economy and has become an important part of the country’s economy,” explained the same owner.

For some time now, the paladares have no longer been in the living rooms of a private house where the lady of the house cooked for four tourists, who in this way were given a peek into the daily life of a Cuban family.

There are 1,700 licensed paladares in Cuba, hundreds of them in Havana, restaurants that rival international standards in quality, in original décor and in service, and that from the beginning of the thaw with the United States two years ago have received visitors such as Barack Obama, Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

But in addition to competing with each other, they also compete with ordinary Cubans at the supermarkets, because one of the great problems of the industry is that it must be supplied at the same outlets as the rest of the population, given the lack of any wholesale market, the opening of which would be in the state’s hands alone.

“The competition for products creates unrest among the population, although it is not the direct fault of the self-employed,” says the same source.

In the state supermarkets – the only kind that exist in Cuba – EFE was able to observe how national brands of beer barely last an hour on the shelves, as the restaurants carry them out by the box full. The same thing happens with soft drinks and products like chicken breasts and milk.

Hence, she adds, the private restaurants have long demanded a wholesale market, which would also benefit the authorities “because it would allow better fiscal control over the purchase invoices.”

Another nuance of the situation, says one source, is the “special sensitivity” of the government to issues such as prostitution and drug trafficking, banned and severely punished on the Island, or access for minors to places where alcohol is served.

The current legislation provides licenses only for restaurants and cafes, so under these categories night bars have begun to proliferate, some of which have been closed down in recent weeks, although this has not been confirmed by any official source.