Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The myth of Cuba has been cut to shreds for the most part

"The myth of Cuba has been cut to shreds for the most part" / 14ymedio,
Yoani Sanchez, Mario Varga Llosa
Posted on July 15, 2014
The writer and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa,
talks about Cuba in the first part of an interview with 14ymedio

Yoani Sánchez, Madrid, 14 July 2014 — Mario Vargas Llosa, writer,
politician, excellent analyst and even better conversationalist,
received me at his home in Madrid for this interview. The minutes flew
by with his proverbial grace for dialogue as he offered me his
reflections about democracy, freedom, literature, Latin America and
Cuba. Today I share these with the readers of 14ymedio who in some way
were there, without being in that room lit by the light of summer and
the lucidity of the writer.

Question: I know that Cuba has been an important part of your passions,
to say nothing of your great obsessions…

Answer: Absolutely. The Cuban Revolution was for me, as it was for many
young people, the appearance of a possibility many of us had dreamed
about but that had seemed unattainable. A socialist revolution, which
was both socialist and free, socialist and democratic.

Today that may seem like an act of blindness, but it wasn't at that
time. At that time, that's what the Cuban Revolution seemed to us,
accomplished not for, but outside, the Communist Party, a Revolution
that was backed up by every heroic exploit. In the first days of the
Cuban Revolution, we saw in it what we wanted to see.

A Revolution that would make great social reforms, that would end
injustice and at the same time would allow freedom, diversity,
creativity, that wouldn't adopt the Soviet line of strict control of all
creative and artistic activities.

We believed it was going to allow criticism and this is what we wanted
to see in the Cuban Revolution and for a good number of years that is
what I saw in it, despite going to Cuba, despite being linked very
directly to the Casa de las Americas, in which I came to sit on the
committee. That was what we saw because the Cuban Revolution had the
ability to feed that illusion.

Question: At what point did you start having doubts?

Answer: Of the five times I went to Cuba in the sixties, the fourth time
coincided with the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) and it was a
shock to know that they had opened what were almost concentration camps
where they took dissidents, thieves, homosexuals, religious people. I
was very impressed especially by the case of a group I expect you know,
El Puente (The Bridge). I knew many of the girls and the boys who made
up the group, among them were lesbians and gays, but all were
revolutionaries, absolutely identified with the Revolution. A good
number of them went to the concentration camps, where there were even

That affected me a great deal, because it seemed impossible that
something like this was happening in Cuba. So I wrote a private letter
to Fidel Castro, where I said, "Comandante, I really don't understand,
this doesn't fit with my vision of Cuba." Then they invited me to visit
Cuba and have a meeting with Fidel Castro. We were about ten or twelve
and somehow we demonstrated our surprise about what was happening.

It was the only time I've talked with Fidel Castro, it was all night,
from eight at night to eight in the morning. It was very interesting and
although he impressed me, I wasn't convinced by his explanation. He told
me what had happened to many very humble peasant families, whose sons
were trainees, and they complained that their sons had been victims of
"the sickos," that's what Fidel said. The gays and lesbians for him were
"the sickos." He told me something had to be done, that perhaps there
were excesses, but they were going to correct it.

I remember Che Guevara had already left by then and no one knew where he
was. Then Fidel Castro—during that conversation—made allusions to where
Che might be and show up. He was also very histrionic, standing on the
table, telling how they'd set up ambushes, he was a very overwhelming
personality, but I realized then that he did not allow interlocutors,
only listeners.

It was almost impossible to pose any questions, however brief. It was
the first time and since then I was left with many doubts, much anguish
that I didn't dare to make public and I continued returning to Cuba
until Fidel's support for the interventions of the Warsaw Pact countries
in Czechoslovakia.

Question: How did you experience the entry of Soviet tanks into Prague
in 1968?

Answer: That made a tremendous impression on me, and it was the first
time I made public a letter criticizing Cuba. I wrote an article titled
Socialism and the Tanks, saying it wasn't possible that if Fidel had
always defended the autonomy, the sovereignty of small countries, now
that a small country wanted its own version of socialism, for the Soviet
tanks to invade and for Cuba to support this. How is it possible?

Despite this they continued to invite me, but when I returned to Cuba
there was already a situation of panic among the intellectuals. My best
friends wouldn't talk to me or they lied to me. There was terror. It was
a few weeks before the imprisonment of Heberto Padilla and the poet was
totally beside himself, talking like a mad man, feeling the spaces close
in on him and very soon he would no longer be able even to function.

The main problem with Cuba is not that it still awakens revolutionary
fantasies and desires, rather the problem is the forgetting

I was with Jorge Edwards, just during the months that he was described
as persona non grata. I remember that thanks to Jorge, who was
diplomatic, we could bring Jose Lezama Lima to eat in one of those
dining rooms where only diplomats could go. Poor Lezama, he ate with
happiness, he loved to eat.

We talked about everything but politics, of course. But on leaving, on
saying goodbye, I remember he squeezed my hand and said, "You understand
the country in which I am living," I responded yes, but he came back and
squeezed my hand again and repeated, "But you understand the country in
which I am living," and I answered, "Yes, I understand." That was the
last time I saw him.

Soon came the capture of Padilla, the letter that several of us wrote
and that meant the rupture with a number of important intellectuals who
weren't Communists but we had made the cause of the Cuban Revolution our
own. For me that was very important, because I regained a freedom that
had been lost during those years, because of this blackmail that was so
effective, of "not giving arms to the enemy," "you can't attack the
Cuban Revolution without yourself becoming an ally of colonialism,
imperialism, fascism."

Well, since then I was much more free and I was left forever, up to
today, with the idea of having contributed in some way to this myth and
to helping a system—already 55 years old—that had converted Cuba into a
concentration camp and that has frustrated at least three generations of

Maybe that's why I've been so insistent in my criticisms of Cuba, it's a
way of exercising self-criticism. Because I believe that we contributed
a lot, and the Cuban regime was highly skilled in this, getting the
support of intellectuals, journalists, academics, that contributed so
much to this myth, that still survives, although it seems like lies and
happily the support is from ever smaller circles.

The main problem with Cuba is not that it still awakens revolutionary
fantasies and desires, rather the problem is the forgetting, the
disinterest. Many people are tired of the Cuba issue and then there is a
great detachment. Many times when the topic of Cuba is on the agenda,
there is such skepticism, as if it weren't a social and human
phenomenon. What can you do against an earthquake, a tsunami? Nothing,
because Cuba is like an earthquake or a tsunami for many people.

Source: "The myth of Cuba has been cut to shreds for the most part" /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Mario Varga Llosa | Translating Cuba -

No comments:

Post a Comment