We are writing a future that was very difficult to imagine only two years ago:Cuban writer Leonardo Padura
|By Orsola Casagrande|
|By JM Arrugaeta|
Interview by Felix Julio Alfonso Lopez * Translation from the Spanish original by Orsola Casagrande and JM Arrugaeta
Havana,March 22: Leonardo Padura is today perhaps the Cuban writer with the greater international recognition, both in terms of success and translation of his books, and awards (National Literature Prize 2012 and Princess of Asturias 2015).
This friendly and pleasant conversation took place in Padura's house, in the Mantilla borough of Havana, the borough where he has lived all his life. Mantilla, his readers will surely know, is also the set of some of his more famous novels (the Havana Quartet, in their English title), those in which detective Mario Conde leads his investigations.
The new Cuba-USA relations and some reflections on Cuban journalism are the issues addressed in this interview. Not a coincidence given that Padura counts also journalism among his literary production.
The President of the United States is visiting Havana. What do you think of this historic event?
President Obama can be a catalyst for a process that at first seemed to be going extremely slow but which has indeed taken a speed that sometimes makes it hard to follow. I think Obama is giving a boost to his policy with this trip to Cuba, proving that he really has the will to change things, change them profoundly so that at some point these two countries could really come to have normal relations. However there is an element that is still pending and is essential if we want to have normal relations: and this is the US embargo against Cuba. The issue of the embargo is affecting many sectors of the political, social, economic, even personal life of people in Cuba. It seems to have little future yet it continues to act and limit certain forms of these relations.
I'll give you just one example, something close to me given my baseball passion, and it is the insertion of Cuban baseball players on the professional circuits. The example is this, and any European would understand it immediately: an Italian football player cannot be contracted by the Spanish League if he is not going to live in Haiti, Dominican Republic and Panama, and have a residence there. This would seem pure madness to anyone in Europe, a great nonsense. Yet that's what happens due to previous regulations of the Cuban government and the US Act of embargo that does not allow the direct recruitment of Cuban players.
Cuba-US relations are marked by a very traumatic historical background, going back before the 1959 Revolution.
In this possible future of normal relations I think it's very important for the Cuban side to acknowledge that, because of the historical experience of two centuries of traumatic relations with the US, this is a complex but necessary relationship. It would have not been easy for any country to have lived 50 years back to back, or rather, face to face with the US, sometimes even being physically and directly attacked by them. And it has not been easy especially for Cuba. We are talking about a country that often is placed in the navel of the world but it's really a tiny little country, undeveloped, with no real power, but which has had that relationship with the US. This relation has been one of the causes of this image, sometimes disproportionate, which Cuba always had at international level. Cuba has to know that normal relations with the US can be risky but I think it will entail benefits. The first benefit I think we are already experiencing, even in the midst of the present abnormality, and I am referring to the fact that tensions have lowered.
Lowered tensions. How would you exemplify this ?
The people of my generation and the generation after mine, have lived in a state of hostility between two countries: the only thing they exchanged, at times, were offenses. We can return to the example of baseball, where the Cuban-US matches were assumed by the Cuban side as part of a war. It was the spirit of the Cold War, really. Everything became a confrontation, when in fact the two countries should have enjoyed of their mutual love not just for baseball, but for music, or movies, or literature, all these many elements that unite Cuba to the United States.
I think we're already living a different time, that future that two years ago was very difficult to imagine and that is indeed happening. We'll have to get all possible benefits from this normal relationship.
Looking at the Cuban society, what impact can have these new times ?
There are many elements in the Cuban social and economic structure that need support to develop. The Cuban government has recognized that without foreign investment cannot develop the country, it is impossible. That's not unique to Cuba, it is a universal phenomenon. Indeed, even the good, prosperous times we have had in the past have happened because a foreign country had given us support, in some cases selfish support, very selfish in others, but it's clear that alone we can't.
Indeed a smooth economic relation with the US can be very interesting. There is an issue, for example, that is the problem of infrastructures, badly damaged, very old of the Cuban cities that could benefit from this relation. Likewise there is the area of communications: for a Cuban who lives in Cuba and has no possibility to travel, to see what is access to standard internet can seem like something from another galaxy. The idea that you can switch on your computer and you are on the Internet, that is something that still seems a distant future here and yet it is almost past.
You have always done journalistic work. As a journalist, how do you see journalism in Cuba?
Often everybody in the street knows what is happening while it seems that in the papers and television's offices they haven't a clue of what is going on outside. This is the impression. I think that despite the critics to the press coming from the government and the calls to the press to be more active, there is an original problem, which is: who directs the press in Cuba? Because until the State, Government and Party would act as both judge and prosecutor the press is not going to fulfill the role it should have. This thing of the Fourth Power here in Cuba is not possible at present.
Writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II in the '80s said in a workshop that Cuba was the country with the worst journalism and the best journalists he ever known. There is the sufficient professional quality, but structures are old, and this is more and more detrimental for the development of society. I agree and find it correct, to have an official point of view on certain issues. There is a need for a press reflecting this point of view, but there is also a need for other alternatives media with the same opportunities to reach the citizens. There is a need for a deep revolution in the Cuban press. Journalism should be allowed its true meaning, which is to be at service of the citizens not the state. The State could indeed be the object of journalistic criticism when it does not meet the expectation of the citizens.
Beyond the good will that might be driving Obama, the reestablishment of new relations is no doubt marked by specific interests.
Of course, there must be good will even when you come to do business. No one is coming to Cuba carrying presents. We need to understand very well this, but on the side of the Cuban government there must be willingness for things to improve in the country, so that the opportunities arising from a new relation of some, or total normality, can be effective for the Cuban society as a whole.
What does Cuban citizen Leonardo Padura feel before this new scenario that only two years ago seemed impossible?
We have lived long years of many shortcomings, many limitations. We have lived through many internal misunderstandings, with a political pressure which has meant a confrontation with the US, and all this meant a price the Cuban society had to pay. More than a generation has lived in this nightmare from which we seemed we could never wake up. I think people in Cuba, after so many sacrifices, after so many years with these problems deserve to live better.
All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times
*Felix Julio Alfonso Lopez is a Cuban historian, writer and academic. He is the vice-dean of the San Geronimo College in Havana