[Marxism] Intolerance Cuts Both Ways [re: Cabrera Infante]

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 16 05:13:45 MST 2005

Here is a further commentary regarding Cabrera Infante
just released today from the InterPress Service. Cabrera
Infante was a relentless opponent of the Cuban Revolution,
yet his work was appreciated there, despite his hostility
after he broke with Cuba in the middle 1960s. If Cuba was
in any way similar to the "Stalinist" regime as it is so
often portrayed, even on the political left, you would 
never see stories like these coming out of the island.

CubaNews previously posted a number of obituaries to him,
among which was a translation of Lisandro Otero's comment

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Intolerance Cuts Both Ways
Dalia Acosta


The death of Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante brought
back memories of controversies over the cultural policy of
the socialist government of Fidel Castro, censorship, and

HAVANA, Mar 15 (IPS) - The news of the Feb. 21 death in
London of the author of the 1979 novel ”La Habana para un
infante difunto” (published in English as Infante's
Inferno) at the age of 75 triggered a rain of praise and
criticism for the radical anti-Castro stance he took during
his 40 years in exile.

”Cabrera Infante gave artistic life to a 'language' of his
own, the 'Havana literary style', a valuable legacy to
later generations,” Cuban writer Leonardo Padura told IPS.

But the relationship between the 1997 winner of Spain's
prestigious Cervantes Award and Cuban culture was a
traumatic one, added Padura, the author of ”M scaras”
(Masks), published in 1997, and ”La Novela de mi vida” (The
Novel of My Life), published in 2001.

”The writers of my generation, many of whom are devoted to
the works of Cabrera Infante, were scorned by him, or at
least that's the impression he gave in public, simply
because we live on the island...regardless of what we write
and how we write it,” said the 49-year-old writer.

Reporters and academics in various countries have said the
works of Cabrera Infante are banned in Cuba, that copies of
his books circulate underground, and that just reading them
can get Cubans thrown into prison. The writer himself said
this was true.

But Daniel Garc¡a, director of the state-run publishing
house Letras Cubanas, said ”Guillermo Cabrera Infante
actually banned his own works from Cuban readers” by
refusing to have his books published in Cuba.

Cabrera Infante said in 2003 that a homemaker had been
arrested and fined for ”possession of subversive
propaganda”: a copy of ”La Habana para un infante difunto”.

”That is what is happening now to my 'natural readers',
people who have to read my books hidden deep inside their
homes and cover them with newspaper or the covers of Cuban
magazines,” said the writer, whose works also include the
1963 classic ”Tres tristes tigres”, published in English as
Three Trapped Tigers, and ”Mea Cuba” (1992).

”My books have been banned in Castro's Cuba since 1965,
which is when I left Cuba. The price they have fetched on
the black market has varied in the most diverse manner --
10 cans of condensed milk or a few dollars -- and they
circulate in a kind of Cuban 'samizdat',” he said.

Samizdat is a Russian word for a system of clandestine
printing and distribution of dissident or banned

Cuban officials and intellectuals living on the island
recognise the value of Cabrera Infante's works although
they lament the effects of what he himself termed his
”acute Castro-enteritis”.

The writer refused to allow his work to appear in an
anthology of Cuban short stories from the 20th century
published by Letras Cubanas in 1999, which is explicitly
explained in the introduction to the book edited by writer
Alberto Agrandes.

Because the author did not allow ”Tres tristes tigres” and
”La Habana para un infante difunto” to be printed in Cuba,
copies for the public libraries had to be purchased abroad,
according to Culture Minister Abel Prieto.

The intolerance both within and outside Cuba went far
beyond the case of Cabrera Infante, however.

The changes that began to be seen in the Cuban government's
cultural policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s moved
towards recognising ”Cuban culture as a whole”, although
the changes were unable to wipe away the past.

Up to that time, innumerable personalities, like singer
Celia Cruz, anthropologist Lydia Cabrera or writer Severo
Sarduy, had become ”unnameable” after they distanced
themselves from Cuba's socialist revolution, or simply
because they emigrated.

According to Padura, since the 19th century, Cuban culture
had suffered the ”drama” of the ”dispersion of its creative
figures”, like poets José Mar¡a Heredia and José Mart¡, or
artist Wifredo Lam, all around the world.

But it was not until shortly after the 1959 triumph of the
revolution led by Castro that political polarisation,
marked by the conflict between Cuba and the United States,
cast as enemies expressions of Cuban culture within and
outside of Cuba.

An unwritten ban on ”Cuban exile culture” in Cuba led to
the lack of any reference to that culture in the
government-controlled media. Authors like Cabrera Infante
who were outspoken critics of Castro were even left out of
specialised reference books and encyclopedias.

Even today, more than a decade after the start of the
so-called ”cultural opening”, the media avoid mentioning
certain names.

That includes leading exponents of Cuban plastic arts of
the generation of the 1980s, who live abroad. The paintings
of Tom s S nchez, for example, are still exhibited, but his
name is not mentioned on TV or in the press.

But a number of Cuban cultural figures who left the country
out of opposition to the socialist system assumed attitudes
in exile that were as -- or more -- intolerant than those
they had been the victims of in Cuba.

While any dissident stance is seen as
”counterrevolutionary” by the official Cuban media, sectors
of the Cuban exile community believe that merely living on
the island is synonymous with being an ”agent of Castro”,
or at the very least just ”one more sheep in the flock”.

This argument holds that in Cuba there is no literature,
music, plastic arts or any other creative productions with
true artistic or independent value, and value magically
accrues to the work of Cubans only after they go into

In more than a few cases, extremism and opportunism go hand
in hand. Some intellectuals and artists who were initially
close to the circles of power in Cuba and even acted as
censors here converted to the most radical anti-Castro
positions after emigrating.

After the 1959 triumph of the revolution, Cabrera Infante
served as a cultural representative of the new government
in Brussels. But he became more and more critical of the
Castro government until he broke off relations with it in

In the case of Cabrera Infante, ”the rancour and politics
on both sides clouded the reality and almost concealed it,
deforming the relationship until it became caricaturesque,”
said Padura. (END/2005)

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