Leonardo Padura: “All the reasons to leave or stay in Cuba are valid”

In “Todas las razones para salir de Cuba son válidas y todas las razones para quedarse también lo son” [All the reasons to leave Cuba are valid and all the reasons to stay are valid too] José Carlos Cueto (Hay Festival Digital Colombia@BBC Mundo) interviews the bestselling Cuban author:

2021 started out “complicated” for Leonardo Padura. He says that his car broke down and that “that in Cuba, this is something very serious.” This setback, however, is not what the famous Cuban writer (who recently added the prestigious Carlos Fuentes Medal to his collection of literary awards) regrets the most. “The pandemic has canceled trips, meetings with the readers, and the public presentation of my latest novel,” he tells me by phone, with a tone of resignation.

Como polvo en el viento [Like dust in the wind (Tusquets, 2020)] the novel to which he refers, deals with one of his “obsessions”: the drama of Cuban exile.

He recounts it through El Clan, a group of friends that broke apart during the Special Period crisis, when in the early 1990s Cuba was left without economic support from abroad after the dissolution of Soviet socialism.

Leonardo Padura is one of the most successful contemporary Latin American authors in recent years, and in 2015, he won the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. His work has been translated into multiple languages ​​and his series of novels about the famous fictional detective Mario Conde has also been adapted for television with the Netlfix series Four Seasons in Havana.

In this interview, prior to the digital edition of the Hay Colombia 2021 festival, Padura talks to BBC Mundo about his latest literary creation, but he does not shy away from speaking about politics, Cuban polarization, and one of the most delicate economic moments in history from the country.

In Como polvo en el viento, you touch upon the issue of exile, and about how many Cubans in exile approve measures that drown the island, although they also end up affecting ordinary citizens and not just the government.

Look, this is a topic that the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (an author popularly known for the series by detective Pepe Carvalho)—a man with tremendous political clarity and whose absence has become very evident in recent years— once explained to me.

Manolo told me that you have to be able to distinguish between the Cuban people and the Cuban government. But I think that many people do not have that capacity. They only express themselves through reactions and wishes, without considering that their resentments also affect the other side of the equation.

The truth is that lately I am quite skeptical about the need for there to be a true conciliation between Cubans and to try to turn certain pages of history.

I always say that we need not forget, but there must be forgiveness. If not, Cuba will never be the country that most Cubans would like.

Taking into account the polarization of which you speak and your “neutrality” when it comes to giving your opinion, don’t you feel that in the end you are criticized from one side and the other? Both government and opposition?

I do not consider myself neutral, I just try to be balanced, fair, and maintain a position: I am a writer, with a civil responsibility and, from my literature, even from my journalism, I have given all the possible opinions on the Cuban reality, which is the reality in which I live, write and participate, although without having any political activism or militancy.

In my novels I try to tell truths, which are surely not absolute, of course, but which are truths, and are not neutral. To express those opinions, when my books are published in Cuba (and so far they have all been published), they do not receive promotion, and there have been cases in which their circulation has even stopped.

Here the media do not promote the recognition that I have received in these years, and as I have come to know, I am in the “limited” category in the state media, I do not know very well what that is, but it means what it says: I am limited.

As an example of this “limitation,” there is the fact that I was recently awarded in Mexico the Carlos Fuentes Medal, which is supposed to place a writer and Cuban literature at a level where very few writers have been, and not even a small space of information in Cuba was given to this award ceremony.

In any case, the most important thing for me is to write what I write and say what I say in my novels and in the hundreds of interviews that I do every year. I don’t have to please anyone, and I am aware that for this I pay a price inside and outside of Cuba. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For original, full interview, see https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-55631459

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