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Three harsh definitions of Cuba by Leonardo Padura, its most important novelist

Leonardo Padura, that Cuban writer of novels, short stories and essays, is also a diver of stories based on real events that serve as a source for the creation of plots, especially police ones, whose focus is the social and political background in which the stories take place. narrations. His latest book, Decent People, edited by Tusquets, is the ninth black novel in the series starring the police officer Mario Conde and does not escape this premise.

In this book, Padura returns with one of his emblematic characters, who will discover that present and past will have unsuspected links. It is 2016 and the rhythm of Cuba is not the same as always: Barack Obama’s visit to the so-called “Cuban Thaw”, a Rolling Stones concert and a Chanel parade shake the island. But the death of a former leader of the Cuban regime makes Conde investigate and put his attention where his eyes do not look, dazzled by the flashes of those historical visits.

In the novel, a cruel and despotic censor is found murdered and mutilated in his apartment. He is about a character who extorted artists so that they would not deviate from the slogans of the revolution. Parallel to the plot of 2016, the novel takes place a story set a century earlier, when Havana was “the Nice of the Caribbean”, when two women were murdered.

Although Padura has traveled to Madrid to present Decent People, he acknowledges that whenever Cuba is talked about it is inevitable to refer to politics, since on the island “everything is so political that it is impossible to separate it.” And he adds that, even if the conversation is about baseball, it ends up getting to that topic, in a society that feels that it lacks “hope for the future.” Sooner or later, politics interferes in all conversations: “It cannot be separated,” he says.

“There is no hope for the future”

The author of The Man Who Loved Dogs, Like Dust in the Wind and The Faces of Salsa, among others, explains that his new novel is not the last in the saga, because he still has things to say about Cuban reality through by Mario Count. That reality is one that “feeds him in that sense” and one of the reasons, in addition to his mother and mother-in-law, why he remains on the island: “I have a very deep relationship with that reality from which I extract that material and I want to be close.”

Padura, who obtained a Spanish passport ten years ago by naturalization letter and has his publishing house in Spain, says that when he returns to the island the situation is incredible, so much so that when he arrives with three suitcases full of food “it is as if the Kings had arrived Wizards”.

The writer, winner of the Princess of Asturias Award for Letters in 2015, considers that Cubans today “what they feel most lacking is hope for the future.” The consequences of this, according to the writer, expose a reality “that is rarely talked about”: the migratory crisis, despite the fact that more than 150,000 Cubans have crossed the border between Mexico and the United States through Nicaragua, which does not require a visa, says.

“A systemically inefficient economy”
In Decent People, defined by Padura as his “most police and Havana” novel, the focus is on 2016, a time when, as its protagonist Mario Conde points out, an “illusion” was lived, a dream of the opening of the country following the visit of then US President Barack Obama.

The pandemic “particularly hard” for Cuba due to its dependence on tourism and the “systemic inefficiency of the Cuban economy” brought a “very deep crisis, even more violent than that of the years of the ‘special period’ of the 1990s, when the USSR”, he affirms about current affairs in Cuba.

“At that time it was an abrupt fall”, continues Padura, “in which we were stunned but in this one we have seen how we were descending day by day and we are in a very complicated situation in which practically everything is missing”, emphasizes the author , who says that even buying cigarettes “is an odyssey.” “From there, you can imagine everything else.”

“Survival forces actions that would not enter into decency”
Cuba’s most important novelist delves into the extreme situation on the island: “Pure, absolute decency cannot be practiced in a country where alternatives for survival force us to carry out certain actions that would not fall within a strict ethic of decency.” . Despite this statement, in his new novel, Mario Conde, he has always been a decent character, he explains.

Why? Because “there are still decent people who for reasons of survival violate certain precepts, but morally they do not harm others or thrive on others.” But also, he says categorically, that in the world “the sons of bitches are gaining ground and there are more and more of them.”

At the same time, he points out, without half measures, what happens in the political space: “It has been perverted: there have always been politicians who are sons of bitches and criminals, dictators and tyrants, but today you see a political class that one thinks, How can they pretend to deceive me like that as if I were an idiot?

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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