Padura and the Face of Cultural Context / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 18 November 2015 — On October 31, in the Museo Napoleónico de La Habana, the book, “The Faces of Padura: Work and Life of a Writer, ” a compilation of texts about Leonardo Padura, was presented. Padura was recently awarded the Princesa de Asturias de las Letras Prize.

At the event, Padura shared the thank-you speech that was read in Oviedo before Spain’s royal family; words that should have been published by the Cuban press. But not only did they not publish them, but also in the official media it was completely ignored that for the first time a Cuban writer was given credit for such a prestigious award.

This attitude of the Castro press is one more mockery of the Cuban people’s intellect, caused by that “cult of secrecy” so many were talking about in the last Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC), where it was treated as something from the past, blaming the journalists themselves for unnecessary self-censorship, now that politics is not interfering in the news and its opinions.

Which is to say that suddenly we had overcome the dictatorship and that we found ourselves in a State where there is free thought.

But returning to the question at hand: the book about Padura could have been one more release for the world of the many that the distinguished Cuban writer completed; only this one was special because it happened on his terrain, surrounded by family, friends and his natural readers, and it was delightful because it was presented by colleagues from his generation, among them the writer Francisco López Sacha.

But they couldn’t stop mentioning some irregularities around this event, like the rejection of eight cultural institutions which didn’t celebrate Padura, which is very alarming; of course, behind that was the sinister hairy hand of the Government, which has exhausted without success all its misleading strategies, praising him moderately in order to buy his silence and stop him from telling his truths and offering his critical evaluations about the reality of the Cuban people.

That Leonardo Padura — actually the most distinguished Cuban writer on the international scene — shares his books with readers at home is a deference that makes us grateful; however, that the Regime tries to make him pay the price for not being a writer who kneels before the manipulations of those who direct the cultural politics on the archipelago is an immense immorality, a brutal insensitivity, characteristics that are endemic to Caribbean totalitarianism.

That his books, awards and presentations aren’t promoted as they should be with a National Prize of Literature shows a lack of delicacy and transparency of the cultural politics and the Government, which discredits itself even more (if that’s possible, given the shameful and repeated practice of this and other dirty tricks), ignoring and trying to “invisiblize” a writer who, in spite of not coming out directly against the system, still doesn’t accept gifts or pampering, as do most of the intellectuals and artists on the island.

They at first tried to manipulate him with an open cynicism, through publications, national fairs, a homage in the Casa del las Américas, or with that final power of cultural officials, accepting that a jury award him the National Literature Prize, the greatest award for the work of a Cuban writer residing on the island. But, since Padura didn’t react before such “magnanimous” tokens — because here it’s only important that you have won, not that they decide whether or not you win — now the same cultural officials, who once called themselves his friends, are cold and distant in response.

I also know that the filming of the movies based on his detective novels that have his character Mario Conde as the protagonist, has received negative responses to official requests from foreign filmmakers to use some sets, the same that are used daily to film short police programs for national television.

The dictatorship thus holds a grudge against those who don’t bow their heads, against those who don’t permit the humiliation of being treated like objects, against those who refuse to be manipulated in order to abide by the designs of government power; all because they still try to ignore an irrefutable truth: art expands, endures and always wins against political power.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 16, under conditional “liberty” [on parole]

Note from Angel’s editor: The compilation, in the charge of Agustín García, includes his texts, those of Francisco López Sacha, María del Carmen Muzio, Dulce María Sotolongo, Lorenzo Lunar, Rafael Grillo, Michel Encinosa, Enrique Saínz, Rafael Acosta, Rebeca Murga, Elizabeth Mirabal and Gustavo Vega, the filmmaker Lucía López, Leonardo’s wife and one from Padura himself.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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