sábado, 25 de diciembre de 2010

Cuba, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, and Alejandro Salvador in Pandemic of Lies: the Exile

There are a lot of references to Cuba in your novel Pandemic of Lies: the Exile. What’s the motivation for this?

Well, I was born in Cuba and lived there until the age of ten.

When exactly did you leave the island?

On December 12th, 1961—an unforgettable day for me. I was ten years old. The event marked a “before and after” in my life.

How so?

If I had stayed in Cuba, my life thereafter would have been radically different. By leaving, I eventually became a “citizen of the world”—what I essentially consider myself today. At any rate, I think that’s better than seeing oneself as “an eternal exile”. Perhaps that’s why I created in Pandemic of Lies: the Exile a country by the name of Banador, which doesn’t exist anywhere on a real map.

How do you see Cuba now almost fifty years after you left it?

As an earthly hell, the product of a totalitarian communist/fascist system which now seems to be on its last legs. Many Cubans, living inside and outside the island, are eagerly waiting for the expected crash to happen. I just hope it’s not accompanied by bloodshed.

Is life that bad in Cuba?

Actually, I think it’s much worse than most people imagine. That’s why so many Cubans from the island have risked and continue to risk their lives crossing a shark-infested sea to reach Floridian shores. In Miami I once met a Cuban young man who had had lost both legs on account of the severe dehydration he had suffered on his sea journey to freedom on a makeshift raft. During the horrific trip, he had drunk salt water excessively and that had made things worse for him. Despite the loss of his limbs, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again, he had assured me, if he were ever again in the same situation of living in a freedom-starved country, and he would repeat his feat even with the foreknowledge of the terrible physical consequences he’d have to pay.

Yet people like Michael Moore praise the Cuban government, in particular, the healthcare system?

Well, if the Cuban healthcare system were that good, why was Fidel Castro secretly smuggled out of Cuba and flown to a ritzy Madrid clinic on the same plane on which a Spanish surgeon jetted to Cuba to treat him? Of course, this event was never reported in Cuba or on the front pages of any of the major newspapers around the world. But it’s a fact. Otherwise, Fidel Castro would be long gone and dead today.

In essence, Cuba’s medical advances have been greatly overrated. Nonetheless, the Cuban government has never lost a minute to use medicine as a propaganda tool in favor of its communist/fascist system. It’s true the government doesn’t charge tuition for medical school, but potential medical students must show a passionate adherence to Fidel Castro’s irrational ideology; otherwise, they are denied entrance. After graduation, many of the medical doctors are sent abroad in a sort of twentieth-first-century slave trade pact under which the foreign country pays the Cuban government directly for the services of these Cuban doctors while the doctors receive a mere pittance from the revenues the Castro brothers rake in from the work these modern slaves perform away from home. To make sure these doctors don’t defect, the Cuban government retains key members of their family as “hostages” back on the island.

Are you saying that the Cuban government is a master of deceit?

That’s exactly what it excels at: deceiving people, especially gullible people or individuals who have a hidden agenda, like Michael Moore or Maradona, and simply pretend to be deceived. The well-intentioned foreign visitors are bamboozled by the Cuban government because they are never taken, for example, to the shabby authentic hospitals where the common people of Cuba are forced to go for treatment. That’s why it’s vital to unmask the Castro brothers as often as possible through books such as Pandemic of Lies: the Exile. This pair of fraternal hoodlums continues to be a serious danger to humanity. Remember that during the October Missile Crisis Fidel Castro urged the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear missile attack on the U.S. That would have been the beginning of a Nuclear Holocaust and the end of mankind as we know it. The unfortunate thing is that most people have a reduced memory span. Now Fidel is encouraging Hugo Chávez to arm Venezuela to its teeth by means of the country’s vast amount of petrodollars. Again the peace of the American continent is being threatened by the old bearded tyrant, this time by means of a Venezuelan puppet of his.

So you see Fidel Castro as a puppet master?

During practically all of his life, he’s had as his main marionette his brother Raúl, who venerates him as if he were some sort of God. He had difficulties with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who had the same problem with Fidel as Karl Marx with Simón Bolívar. Both Guevara and Marx disliked leaders who were distinctly authoritarian and despotic and promoted a personality cult for the benefit of the caudillo. So Fidel pushed Guevara out and sent him on a suicidal mission that proved to have more propagandistic potential than his having remained on the island. His “Christ-like” death helped to inject the Cuban “Socialist” Revolution with a strong mystical, religious element. Thus, the independent-minded Che Guevara ended up being used unwittingly as a puppet by his boss Fidel. Particularly after his death, Guevara was squeezed for his advertisement value and utilized as a global marketing tool for the “cult” of socialism. Fidel lived on and endured as well as his communist/fascist government, but Guevara died and went on to become a revolutionary saint, continuously going through frequent hagiographic metamorphoses according to the needs of Castro’s Revolution.

On the other hand, Hugo Chávez adores Fidel like Raúl; only Hugo goes even further than Fidel’s brother and considers the Cuban dictator his “spiritual father”, his ecstatic reverence for the bearded caudillo verging on territory laden with homoerotic implications. What makes very special and at the same very dangerous this relationship between the younger man and the older one is the fact Hugo has a tight grip on oil—and lots of it. In fact, without the handsome oil subsidies that rain on Cuba like manna from a miraculous Venezuelan cloud, Cuba would have gone bankrupt several years back. Venezuelan oil is the only thing that keeps Cuba afloat nowadays, because, as Fidel himself has admitted, the present economic system in Cuba simply doesn’t work. I would go even further and add that it’s a disaster and nears a cataclysmic collapse. And just today, coincidentally, appeared the news of Raúl Castro’s apocalyptic speech before the Cuban “parliament”, where he said: “Either we rectify our errors, or time will run out on us at the edge of the precipice.” Can the message be any clearer?

Whose model does President Alejandro Salvador follow in your novel Pandemic of Lies: the Exile? Hugo’s or Fidel’s?

He follows both, but the orders come mostly from Chávez, because, you see, there’s a pecking order in this Dictatorship, Inc. While Fidel is Hugo’s boss, Hugo is Salvador’s. Furthermore, Chávez has got the oil and with it he can bribe and buy consciences, including North American ones. Here I’m referring to all those U.S. Hollywood celebrities who go to Venezuela to pay homage to Emperor Hugo. Chávez is also involved in drug trafficking, and that means a quick buck and abundant cash to blow away in promoting his brand of Bolivarian Revolution, which, as one of the characters points out in my novel, is clearly of the fascist type.

Part II of Interview with Pedro C. López, author of Pandemic of Lies: the Exile

Could you tell us how the idea of Banador came to you in the writing of Pandemic of Lies: the Exile?

During my sixteen years of living in South America, I’ve had the chance to visit several South American countries. These include Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. There was one year during which, on account of a national rice surplus which was driving prices in a precipitously downward direction in Ecuador and had to be evacuated in a massive exportation effort on the double, I made six consecutive trips to Colombia in representation of the Ecuadorian rice sector. On another occasion I had to spend two months in Brazil in order to solve a commercial problem suffered by my Ecuadorian relatives at the hands of a couple of dishonest Brazilian citizens. Besides all these trips taken around South America, since 1994 I’ve been living continuously in Ecuador. Thus, modesty aside, I think I had a good grasp on what was happening south of the Border when I started composing Pandemic of Lies. So to get back to your initial question, I would say Banador is a composite picture of all my experiences in various countries in South America. That’s why I decided to create a mythical nation and to call it Banador. In short, Banador is ubiquitous.

Could you give us some concrete details about Banador?

Banador is not really a poor country, but most of its citizens consider themselves poor. The poor Banadorians blame their poverty on a) the native oligarchs, b) the United States, or c) fate. The Banadorian radicals, mostly or almost exclusively from the left wing of the political spectrum, tend to lash out at both the rich Banadorians and the United States for the socio-economic situation of their country. They see native wealth and American interests conspiring together behind the scenes to maintain the status quo and keep the people below in check. On the other hand, the least educated of the needy people hardly ever chastise the U.S. for their situation but frequently do express their resentment against their bosses or the owners of the companies they work for—if they are so lucky as to have a job. Fate receives most of the finger-pointing and blame from most sectors. With this respect, though, the one common thing all Banadorians share is that they never blame themselves for their seemingly endless plight.

As I stated at the beginning, Banador is not poor. In fact, it’s actually a rich country—rich in oil, gas, minerals, water, and land resources. What’s dearly lacking is the courage and sincerity on the part of its citizens, with very few exceptions, to face the issues without the use of scapegoats.

Is this why so many Banadorians are poor?

Precisely. Banadorians are always projecting out their guilt and responsibility. The wealthy and successful members of Banadorian society call the poor people lazy, and the poor call the wealthy citizens exploiters. That kind of tense argument never allows for consensus, harmony, and progress. However, it does create a fertile ground for demagogues, who use the seeds of popular resentment to plant the Banadorian political fields with hatred and chaos, from which they will eventually reap major benefits, but primarily for themselves and their sycophants. Populism, authoritarianism, and corruption plague the political scenery in Banador. Under the constant attacks of such pests, it is almost impossible for Banador ever to reach the status of a developed nation.

Is there racism in Banador?

There’s definitely plenty of that. Indeed, Banador is far from being a racial paradise. Nonetheless, racial tensions seem to irradiate mostly from the top of the economic pyramid toward the base. As you climb the economic ladder, you immediately perceive that the skin tone of people lightens up. Eventually, you reach an apex where the faces you perceive don’t differ much from those you might encounter in Europe. The demagogic populist politicians utilize this situation to instill even more hatred into the darker-skinned classes toward the dominant economic groups and to perpetuate a class struggle that leads only to more political chaos and instability. While by blood, sweat, and tears, the Banadorian nation now and again might accomplish taking two steps forward, the opportunistic politicians, with one simple push and in a flash, make the whole country recede three steps. They do this by pouring gasoline into an already existent fire that cries out for justice and equality. What these corrupt politicians don’t tell the people is that such lofty goals are best attained through evolutionary and not revolutionary processes. More importantly, these Machiavellian scoundrels avoid informing the nation that globalization is irreversible, that everybody out there around the globe is watching Banador, and that nobody will want to come to and invest in Banador if the country’s social, political, and economic state of things has fallen into an uncontrollable spin and, in particular, if, because of this turbulence, there even looms the possibility of the Balkanization of the Banadorian nation state.

Are you referring to regionalist forces?

Exactly. In Banador there are basically two regions: mountain and coast. The Banadorians who live in mountainous areas are called serranos, a word that comes from the Spanish word sierra, which in English means “mountain range”. Those who reside in the coastal region are addressed as costeños, whose etymological root is costa, equivalent to “coast” in English. Although both groups consider themselves Banadorian through and through, the serranos and the costeños have different customs. For example, the serranos love bull-fighting, while the costeños love horse-riding events. With respect to the subject of cuisine, while the serranos include in their menu practically every part of the cow, including the innards, the costeños’ culinary preferences gravitate toward seafood. The serranos use a good number of Kichwa words because they have mixed Spanish and indigenous (of Incan origin) blood, with the exception of the economic elite. The costeños have Spanish, African, and indigenous (of non-Incan origin) ancestors. These cultural and racial differences between the two groups engender animosity, which is especially evident at soccer games, where gross insults and offensive names are traded between serranos and costeños as they root for their favorite teams from their home areas. This long-standing enmity between sierra and costa becomes another trouble spot which demagogic politicians exploit to their advantage, further dividing the Banadorian nation.

So what’s one possible solution to all these Banadorian problems?

The solution is the same for Banador as for any Latin American country just about, I think. Cooperation, consensus, harmonized thinking, meeting of minds, less navel-staring and more peering into the future, less ideology and more creativity, fewer words and more action, and, last but not least, the creation of a common national goal that’s at the same time pro-progress and pro-freedom.

Part I of Interview with Pedro C. López, author of Pandemic of Lies: the Exile

In your novel there’s a country we’ve never heard of.

You’re referring to Banador, I presume.

Yes, exactly. Does it exist?

The last time I checked it didn’t—at least not in real space and time or, for that matter, on a map. However, in my novel it’s the place where most of the action occurs.

What’s so special about Banador?

Precisely what I just mentioned: that it doesn’t exist in real space and time or within the realm of cartography. It exists only inside the boundaries of my novel, fruit of my imagination.

Meaning what?

Meaning that I can do anything with the country and don’t have to be restrained by endogenous historical events. In other words, the country’s mythical or timeless nature frees my imagination completely. Anything can happen in Banador, and I don’t have to worry about past or even present realities. Banador is always in the making, like a novel, always flowing, like a river.

Any similarities with any other country?

None whatsoever. Banador could be any Latin-American country, and every Latin-American person shares many of the characteristics of a Banadorian citizen.

Is Pandemic of Lies: the Exile a political novel?

I would prefer the term “political thriller”. Political ideas are expressed in the book, especially about the growing menace against democracy and basic freedoms in Latin America, but the work is not about politics. It’s about people who get into politics and through the exercise of power show their tremendous human frailties, such as unbridled greed and gross dishonesty.

Why a gay president?

Why not?

I mean, it’s unusual for a president of a country, especially in Latin America, to be gay.

You’d be surprised! At any rate it’s not as remote a possibility as you’d think. Furthermore, the gay issue is more aggressively out there in the open with each passing day. Gays are demanding not only anti-discrimination laws but also marriage rights, adoptions rights, and the right to serve in the military. So I didn’t make the president gay out of a clear blue sky. The way I look at it, Alejandro Salvador was gay before he ran into my imagination.

But you had an ax to grind with Alejandro Salvador?

Me? You mean Manuel Cruz, which is a totally different situation. Before I go on, let me make it very clear: Pandemic of Lies: the Exile is not an autobiographical novel. In other words, I am not Manuel Cruz. If I’m anything, I’m all my characters, not any one of them in particular. I’m even Solitary George, a turtle. I’m all of them at once really but not any one of them specifically or separately.

How did you come up with the character of Solitary George?

Again it just happened. It, or rather he, just slipped into my mind, and I couldn’t get him out.

You made Solitary George talk.

Again I couldn’t help doing that. If I hadn’t given him the faculty of speech, he’d have wrung my neck. (Laughter.) For a while I thought I was doing something nutty, but later I ran into a novel entitled Kafka on the Shore by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, who makes cats talk in the book. That made me feel a lot more normal.

Are you saying that the characters seem to take control of things in the novel?

That’s right. You know how they start but you simply can’t predict how they’ll turn out. They seem to take on a life of their own very independent from their creator.

Why, when, and how I started writing Pandemic of Lies: the Exile

Living in South America is quite different from doing so in the United States. I am a U. S. citizen who was born in Cuba and became a naturalized American. I was educated in the United States, except for the first four grades in grammar school when I attended the Colegio Champagnat run by Marist brothers in Caibarién, Cuba. When I moved south of the Border, I was shocked almost on a daily basis by what I saw and heard.

Residing in Ecuador, I became disenchanted above all with the “revolutionary” events that were taking place in various countries in Latin America. From my adolescence onward, I had kept myself well informed of what was happening in Cuba. Thus, I knew that, if the cancer of Fidel’s communist revolution and tyrannical style of ruling began to spill over to other Latin American countries, it would be fatal for the people living within those nations. They would suffer at least a half century of economic backwardness and misery, loss of basic freedoms, and relentless, cruel dictatorship. In the case that several such countries became infected with the communist-fascist virus emanating from Cuba, they could very well link up and form diabolical alliances to impose an unbreakable noose around the neck of Latin America and its people. Angry, inspired, and at the same time convinced of the possibility of my apocalyptic vision for that part of the world, I started writing Pandemic of Lies: the Exile.

I began the novel at the beginning of March, 2009. I started things in medias res, that is to say, in the middle of things. The protagonist Manuel Cruz is hiding out in a remote hut at the edge of a swamp beside a river and some rice fields. Raúl has come to make his weekly visit and bring his friend the usual provisions Manuel needs to stay alive out there in the middle of nowhere. I set up a modest writing pace at first and then gradually, as I warmed up to the narrative, increased the tempo. By late December of 2009, I was finished with the first draft of the novel. It contained 432 pages at that point. The book went through three revisions until it reached the present length of 536 pages in May of 2010.

Since I travel a lot and own two homes in two different provinces in Ecuador, I wrote on a daily basis and sent the saved novel to my hotmail address. If I transferred myself from one of my homes to the other, I could easily retrieve the steadily growing manuscript from my email address at either location. It was like throwing a high, long pass into the clouds and then catching it miles away as it fell softly into my waiting arms. Internet permitted me to be quarterback and receiver at the same time in any part of the globe. I kept a different laptop computer at each house of mine, obviating my having to carry a PC with me inside my SUV. On a couple of occasions my Nissan Patrol had been broken into by petty thieves who thought the briefcase I had left inside the vehicle contained a laptop computer. Now I hardly ever carry a briefcase, with or without a laptop, inside my new SUV, a hybrid Highlander. I learned my lesson. You have to adapt to the situation—and quickly—around these parts of the world.

Finishing Pandemic of lie: the Exile provided me with one of the greatest satisfactions in my entire life. Seeing my novel posted on various websites across the cyber world, from China to France, from the United Kingdom to South Korea, from Canada to Germany, and from Japan to the USA, fulfilled an old dream of mine.

martes, 2 de noviembre de 2010

Mi oficina

Mi oficina

Mi oficina
en mi bolsillo,
el bolsillo dentro de mi SUV,
el SUV sobre un río asfáltico
lleno de llantas, gases, y ruido
que corre hacia
un mar de entropía,
sin peces,
sin Dios.