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 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.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.