A Few Moments with Guillermo Cabrera Infante
One of my favorite writers is Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005), the Cuban-born journalist, critic and novelist (though he did not really believe the term "novel" adequately described his work). Cabrera Infante's parents were early members of the Cuban Communist Party, and Cabrera Infante himself was at one time a supporter of the Castro regime and an important Cuban diplomat. He gradually became disenchanted with life under Castro, and went into exile in 1965. Cabrera Infante's Mea Cuba, a collection of essays, reviews, and short pieces (published in the United States by FSG in 1994) is a fascinating and harrowing account of the lives of intellectuals and artists under Castro.* I recommend it to anyone with illusions about the nature of the current Cuban government and the lives of the Cuban people.
The following is part of an interview with Cabrera Infante conducted by Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier for Dalkey Archive Press.
The entire interview can be found here.
MLGG: The Institute of Literature and Linguistics of the Cuban Academy of Sciences published a dictionary on Cuban literature a few years ago. How is it possible that your name does not appear in it?
GCI: It’s very simple. I turned out to be an enemy, and I am going to explain why. My parents were founders of the Cuban Communist Party, and I grew up extremely poor. When we moved to Havana, my father founded the communist newspaper Hoy. I began my writing career by doing translations for that paper. I also used to participate in many insurrectionary activities against Batista. Many of Cuba’s current literary “heroes” (whose names I am not going to repeat here because it would be giving them free publicity) used to go to Mass every day in those times, and some even worked within Batista’s government. By contrast, Alberto Mora hid in our house for six months at one time, and at great risk, since the second-in-command of Batista’s police lived right next door to us. But it was decided that he should stay at our house because this represented a natural sort of camouflage—nobody in his right mind would hide a fugitive next to the house of a chief of police. I did other things as well, like writing for the clandestine newspaper Revolución with Franqui. When the revolution came to power, I collaborated with it. I was the first delegate of the cultural section of the Ministry of Education sent by the first revolutionary Minister of Education himself. This past is irrevocable; if anyone had credentials to be a part of today’s Cuba it would be I, not Alejo Carpentier or Lezama Lima, because the former lived in Venezuela until the revolution ascended to power and the latter was an official of Batista’s cultural division. So they can never say that I left Cuba because I was the son of filthy rich parents who had ten sugar plantations confiscated. That is impossible. The only way to attack me was to completely eliminate me. My books, for instance, were banned in Cuba, but not because I had made counterrevolutionary declarations. They were banned from the very time when they were published abroad. Three Trapped Tigers never circulated in Cuba, and I had not criticized Fidel Castro’s government at that time. So why did they ban this book? Because there was the possibility that, since I was abroad, I would sooner or later become a counterrevolutionary. There were also certain literary cliques and political interests which contributed to drawing a curtain of silence around me. I first came out against Castro in June 1968, fifteen months after my book had been published, and you cannot imagine how quickly a void was created around me. I ceased appearing in anthologies. I could tell you about a series of anthologies where they mentioned literally anyone, and I didn’t appear. So it does not surprise me that I am not mentioned in that book.
MLGG: In an interview you held in Caracas, you described Fidel Castro as the “Stalin of the Caribbean.” Nevertheless, your parents had portraits of Stalin and Jesus in their house in the 1930s. Why these apparent contradictions?
GCI: I can explain quite simply why we had both a portrait of Stalin and one of Jesus. My mother had been educated at a convent, and she had been converted to communism by my father during Stalin’s most rampant period, at the beginning of the 1930s. So she had two gods, God in heaven and god on earth. The comparison between Castro and Stalin is not really so farfetched if you consider that here are two men who eliminated practically all their enemies, amassing all the power for themselves. But in certain respects the comparison is not apt. A better parallel would be with Hitler, for instance in the massive mobilization of people. Specifically, Castro would bring millions of Cubans to the Plaza de la Republica, while Hitler drew two or three million Germans to Nuremberg or Berlin. They both used loudspeakers, extreme body language, and could employ their voices in a particularly inflammatory, moving manner, in the sense that they could sway their audiences in one direction or the other. They were both great actors, at the peak of their powers when performing before the masses. All these factors make the comparison more plausible. Of course, there is one great difference between them: Fidel Castro never wrote a Mein Kampf. He was a surprise Hitler, because he never delivered what he promised: to reinstitute the Constitution of 1940 and return Cuba to a democratic state, with free elections. Hitler, on the other hand, did exactly what he set out in Mein Kampf, down to the extermination of the Jews.
MLGG: Who is Guillermo Cabrera Infante?
GCI: I would prefer that we leave my striptease to a more private place.
* I have the hardcover here--somewhere--on my bookshelves. The paperback is pictured.