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CRIME FICTION:Cuba: crime fiction and free health care

Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction --Peter Rozovsky's self evident musings on crime fiction has some interesting comments about the Cuban crime writer, Jose Latour.

I've not read any of this Cuban exile's novels but Rozovsky digs up a quote from his latest, Comrades in Havanna that's worth a hearty scoff :
"Under capitalism, many nations had achieved what he had been led to believe only communist societies could: free education and health care."
Cuban artists (and sportspeople) who high tail it outter there for big bucks elsewhere always play up to the role assigned to them by the US ideological template -- while always failing to note that their experience of recognition and encouragement of their achievements relied so much on the conditions of the very process they now professionally denigrate.

This actual situation is touched on in a comment and interview with Leonardo Padura, in the ShotsMag crime fiction zine, who is referred to as Cuba's Hammett -- and the Godfather of crime fiction on the island:

For those who tend to support the revolution blindly and those who tend to attack it from a position of ideological ignorance, this book should be particularly challenging. For it is clear that Padura is a critical voice from within. At times the sarcasm and behaviour of his policeman indicates an almost heretical attitude. Yet Padura remains in Cuba and is celebrated, certainly by the artistic community and the general population, as one of the nation’s greatest authors.

Padura’s presence in the island and his novels are a great achievement because they illustrate that Cuban socialism is not as repressive as its enemies claim it to be, while at the same time showing that Cuba is perhaps not as perfect as some of its friends might want us to believe.

Padura’s Havana is a heterogeneous place, where the macro politics of the Cold War, the blockade and the confrontation with the United States is not mentioned but broods ominously behind the text where the characteristic scarcities and contradictions of the 1990s are ever present. Padura’s reality is thus carefully nuanced and not easily bracketed into any ideological point of view.

In a sense therefore, Padura exemplifies the maturity of Cuban socialism in that it has been able to produce an author of such ability and education (his influences are wide-ranging - from Shakespeare to Salinger, Cervantes to Montalban, Mozart to Lennon) who is able to create a credible fictional Cuban world that is recognisable to visitors and Cubans alike and which is relevant to the times we are living through.

Some Cuban politicians might feel uncomfortable reading these stories, but then that is precisely the kind of popular literature that Gramsci called for. True art, said Gramsci, is about depicting life as it is now - whereas politics is always about some great future that is going to be. For that reason, he explained, the politician would always be at loggerheads with the artist.

Padura is such an artist. He makes the reader sit up and think, using the medium of the detective story not to propagandise but to philosophise. His novels might be described as morality tales for the post-Soviet era.

In case you are thinking that I'm too black and white, Rozovsky notes another segment of Latour's novel as a reflection on what's on offer for Cubans from the outside 'forces of democracy' if they retake the country:
One of the defectors, a central figure in the novel:"`But we've reflected on the excesses of democracy and the shortcomings of communism a hundred times. Are we going to do something about it? No, right? So leave it to the naive dissidents who risk their freedom, maybe even their lives. They haven't figured out that when communism falls, Cuban-Americans will give them a medal and a pension before rigging the elections and taking charge. Politics sucks, Victoria."

2 Com:

Ray | April 18, 2009

Left I on the News has a post on Cuban "political prisoners" that sems salient.

There's talk of a prisoner exchange of Cuban "political prisoners" with the Cuban Five, the five Cubans who have been in U.S. prisons for more than ten years for acting to stop terrorism by infiltrating and informing on the right-wing terrorist groups in Miami. I make note of this:

"The U.S. could balk at Castro's offer to free about 200 political prisoners held on the island, along with their relatives, and send them all to the United States in exchange for five Cubans serving long sentences on espionage charges. On the list are several people convicted of violent acts, including two Salvadorans sentenced to death for Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist. Cuba currently has a moratorium on the death penalty."As I wrote back in February:

The U.S. government, and the Miami right-wing Cubans (not to mention a plethora of pundits etc.) always accuse Cuba of holding hundreds of "political prisoners." It's pretty much taken as simple fact. But the fact is that, unlike the hundreds of political prisoners who are in Cuba in a place called Guantanamo (and the thousands elsewhere around the globe), every single person in a Cuban prison has been charged with violating an existing law, tried, convicted, and sentenced.

But here's something that will really open your eyes about the nature of those "political prisoners." Elizardo Sanchez is one of the most famous of Cuban "dissidents" and heads the self-importantly titled "Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation." This group (which probably consists of little more than Sanchez) claims it has "documented 205 political prisoners" in Cuba. And who are two of the people on that list? Two Salvadorans sentenced to death for a series of Havana hotel bombings that killed Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo in 1997 and wounded 11 others. Yeah, "political prisoners." I can't speak to the crimes of the other 203 people on Sanchez' list, but those two alone speak volumes about the political nature not of the prisoners, but of the list.

Incidentally, the person who organized those bombings, and hired those Salvadoreans, is Luis Posada Carriles, today walking the streets of Miami, still protected from extradition to Venezuela to stand trial for the murder of 73 other people in the mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in 1976.
Is it not amazing how AP can write with a straight face about Cuban "political prisoners" and note in the very same paragraph that some of the people on the list have been convicted of such violent acts as hotel bombings and murder?

Section: Rozovsky thread | April 18, 2009

Dave Riley said... Maybe actual situation is closer to this comment and interview with Leonardo Padura ( in the ShotsMag crime fiction zine) who is referred to as Cuba's Hammett -- and the Godfather of crime fiction on the island.

Dissidents with book deals come cheap for all the denigration they can spread about Cuba. While I support Cuba no one is going to suggest that the strictures of the "Special Period" haven't been tough nor is it up to me to argue that people who leave Cuba shouldn't choose to.

After all they are allowed to leave unlike the way that US citizens are disallowed from visiting.

But there's a certain servile advantage to be gained if you professionalise your dissident status from an off shore vantage point in the same way that Cuban bloggers are turned automatically into martyrs or experts on democracy (in the same way as George Bush was an expert on democracy).

In the meantime the massive cost of the blockade, the sheer havoc and financial terrorism it causes has turned the Cuban people into chronic, brutalised victims of US spite.

In Latour's case, it seems to me that the revolution 50 years ago has served him very well indeed and after one rejection he began to look elsewhere for a publisher.

Why not? Why put up with the "Special Period" and the blockade when you can make a new nest elsewhere, very much richer and with more comfort and fame in...Canada.

But like the Haitian who washes up on the Floridean shores, drowned or half drowned -- unless you have some edge the US can exploit, no one will want to know you let alone publish your creative thoughts.

April 17, 2009
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...
Dave: I have read one of Padura's novels. While it's not at the top of my list, I do remember being surprised at the degree to which he portrayed persecution of homosexuality, a theme he takes up the ShotsMag interview. And his characters, who seem to spend disproportionate amounts of their time smoking and drinking, are no socialist heroes. So I'm open to the suggestion that artistic freedom is available, at least for some. For how many, I don't know. But I also noted this from the Padura interview: "What happened in the 1970s to this group of writers, actors, painters etc., was a debt that was still unpaid by Cuban society." That's awfully recent, and perhaps to some are haunted by the ghosts of repression for longer than others.

Life in America is, of course, tainted by official euphemism, though I'm not sure anything rises to the level of "Special Period." Do Cuban media capitalize the phrase?

Padura's comments about his attachment to his country are touching, and I mean that without the least bit or sarcasm. I'm a bit uneasy, though, with its corollary implication: that people who try to flee Cuba are unpatriotic. That's uncomfortably close to the American "love it or leave it."

I would note also that Latour's view may be more nuanced that you give it credit for. The passage from which I took the title of this post is rather harsh on Cuban American dissidents.

April 17, 2009
Anonymous Dave Riley said...
I agree with all of what you say and do note that period in the early seventies as when there were indeed a falling out among Cuban writers and intellecturals.

But my point is that it is very relevant to this debate that those who seek to lecture Cuba on human rights and democracy are so often massive hypocrites. Such as by the same country which set up Gauntanemo Bay-- which is also in Cuba.

It is true that those who leave are often labeled as "unpatriotic' but the term hasn't the same shallow weight as in the US. Cuba's long term struggle is for national self determination when the US resolved the question of independence in 1776.

So the term is much more virulent than the association you may have with its use in the United States as those who stay also stay among some significant degree of sacrifice for the sake of the gains the revolution have mustered.

There's a self evident logic, albeit biased perhaps, to the abuse, isn't there?

How is Cuba "independent' when it is savagely isolated by the United States, when its airways are seeded with US propaganda and there has been 50 years of sabotage and assassinations orchestrated by the neighbour to the north?

How is Cuba independent and determining its own existence when everyone knows both on and off the island that regime change will be enforced by the US as soon as any opportunity exists to do so.(As they tried to do with the Bay of Pigs invasion...as they did in Iraq only recently)

And any debate about human rights is warped by the prism that dissidence, while it may occasionally be treated unfairly, is also presumed to be a ticket to guaranteed US political and financial backing.

Left I on the News has a post today on Cuban "political prisoners" that seems salient to this discussion.

I don't doubt that there are strictures on some artists in Cuba -- but I note that there is a major debate at the moment about opening up to more free form political discussion. I think it's true that Cuba has a nanny attitude some times to debate and criticism from within the country.(But history suggests that Cuba is always changing.)

But while such nannyism has grown up as a response to US interventions concerns, Cuba is no longer so isolated in Latin America and I think the Venezuelans have shown that you can foster a debate on a massive scale and still win at the polls precisely because you had it out and won that debate.

But while Cuba remains under siege it is always going to be difficult to find the right balance between freedom and 'defence' both in the real world and in the minds of Cubans.

Writers and intellectuals aren't quite in the same boat as the general populace who may value such things like free health care and education more so than they. There is going to be a different tug of loyalty based on what you have learnt from your own experience to value most.
April 17, 2009

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