Cuba in fashion

Knowing, understanding and predicting the island.

For more than half a century being a Cuban writer has implied the complex situation of having to assume responsibilities that frequently go beyond or overflow the trade of literary creation. The fact that during these decades the island has been a country with a very peculiar economic, social, cultural development, with a system in which all actions entail political decisions, generates an added value not only to the work, but also to the social projection of the artist, who, in any case, is considered a social factor that must be projected as such.

During recent weeks, while on a tour to promote my books through four European countries, I was been able to confirm that, after the stage opened last December 17 with the announcement by the Cuban and U.S. presidents, Raùl Castro and Barack Obama, respectively, on the reestablishment of diplomatic relations broken five decades ago, the subject of Cuba, of its present and future has reached renewed levels of interest in diverse sectors of international public opinion, a curiosity that goes from the means of communication avid for information to the simple citizen who, out of pure contagion, asks: and what’s going to happen now? In each interview, in each public intervention, in each private conversation the fact of being a Cuban writer (who furthermore lives in Cuba) forces me to answer that and other questions even harder to explain.

But the thing is that being a writer, reflecting through literary resources the phenomena and processes of a certain reality, does not necessary involve knowing about all matters, from political to economic, of the society in which the artist lives and creates and, much less, the ability to be able to predict its future developments in the most diverse areas, about which they generally have no information.

In any case, the first obstacle that must be overcome when speaking about the country and the current, past and even future life of Cubans is the mountain of established prejudices one has to deal with. It seems an irrefutable fact that the majority of the persons in any part of the world who have some interest in Cuban society also have an opinion about it and, unfortunately, that opinion many times is simplistic and Manichean, especially if they are individuals who do not live the island’s daily life.

Thus, many defenders or detractors of the Cuban process living in other parts of the world base their opinions on their possible or impossible knowledge of Cuban reality, but convinced that their dreams, readings and visits to the island give them that capacity to judge and know as much or more about Cuba than the Cubans themselves. When they sometimes ask they do so to obtain the answer they previously have and that they solely want to reaffirm.

I know the case, for example, of a European professor who makes frequent visits to the island and stays in hotels like the Parque Central or the Habana Libre, pays for the services he uses with the hard currency that accompanies him for his work as a schoolteacher and, of course, spends his days on the island in a stellar orbit different to that of the majority of Cubans. However, from his privileged chair the professor who has become a Cuba specialist dares to give opinions not just about the major processes underway in the country, but even about daily life on the island and to judge the correctness of the reflection of a reality that a Cuban artist makes about his time. It is true and unquestionable that issuing that opinion is his right, but, is his “virtual” view of a society from his hotel balcony a judgment of value when gauging such a complex and singular reality as that of Cuba? And, what is even more complicated: can a Cuban that does live his circumstance admit as valid and concluding that superior and prejudiced opinion (in the strict sense of the term) of someone who views Cuba from such a privileged height?

But there exists, in another great many persons and media a real curiosity to try to understand the vital and social Cuban process, more now that a big and heavy door has been opened that was closed for half a century. The economic and social changes undertaken by the Cuban government in recent years, their depth and consequences, had already renewed the interest about the present and future of the island, but undoubtedly the resounding news released on December 17 and its first echoes – direct telephone communications between Cuba and the United States, an interest by giant companies like Netflix and Google to be present on the island, plus the Havana stays of politicians and notable personalities of U.S. society as an advance party for a possible avalanche of visitors -, are generating new doubts and expectations…that can be submitted to the consideration of the Cuban writer as if he were actually a guru or the most modern version of the Delphi oracle.

What there is no doubt about is that the recent events have placed Cuba and its circumstances in the limelight of the interest and opinion, I would say, of the world. They have put the island in fashion, with all the benefits and risks that those processes entail, with healthy, unhealthy or disoriented curiosity, since everyone wants to know what is happening and what will happen…but we Cubans, writers or not, also want to find out. (2015)

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