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Pedro Pérez-Sarduy: A Reaction
I wrote this response as a short assignment in early 1998 for HIST 236 Modern Latin American History (which was apparently not "The History of Modern Latin America," the Honduran professor would insist) at Trinity College. The paper was a reaction to two presentations that acclaimed Afro-Cuban author Pedro Pérez-Sarduy had made at the school during this particular day, once to a class on Cuban history, the other to a larger more general audience that night. The paper was intended to convey my thoughts on the latter presentation.

Like many who attended the lecture by Pérez-Sarduy, I was struck by his sympathy and support for the Cuban Revolution, even now, nearly forty years later, when it seems that the majority of the world has discredited socialism.

I had the opportunity to hear him speak at both the decolonization event and, in a more personal setting, professor Figueroa's "Cuban Revolution: Historical Origins" class. In the class, we discussed Afro-Cuban social issues in relation to Euro-Cubans, new educational opportunities under the socialist system, and Pérez-Sarduy's early years as a writer and as a soldier. These questions and issues got more direct and satisfying answers than the lecture in the LSC [Trinity's Life Sciences Center] auditorium, perhaps because of the overwhelming response there to his presentation, or the fact that he was simply exhausted from answering questions all day.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed his presentation. He had a unique personality that made him a very entertaining speaker, and he expressed viewpoints that are not widely shared in this country, which made what he said a breath of fresh air. I find myself sympathetic with the Revolution, not because I am a socialist, but because I feel that the self-determination expressed in tossing off the yoke of American imperialism pushed Cuba farther in the direction of economic and political independence than most of its Latin American brethren. Also, on the road to modernity, Cuba needed socialist policies like agrarian reform and social reform to counteract the different form of colonialism that it suffered in contrast to the kind experienced by the United States and to contend with the multi-tiered racial hierarchies that were unlike those of the US or the rest of Latin America.

There were contradictions in what Perez-Sarduy said and in the events of his life. At one point during professor Figueroa's class he said he was excited about the defense at the Bay of Pigs, because, "we were right, and we were willing to die for our cause." I asked him later at the LSC presentation whether he felt disillusioned with the revolution between the early 1960s and the present, hoping to hear him mention any feelings of betrayal he might have felt concerning censorship of his work or the government's refusal to publish any writing of his for a period of ten years after one controversial paragraph was deemed subversive. He instead replied with more general social problems such as race issues and the plight of homosexuals, which to be fair, were appropriate responses to the question, likely for my broad phrasing of the question. I also later wondered why he had lived in London for the past sixteen years living the life of an exile if he truly believed in the progression of Cuban society...

Another issue that rubbed me the wrong way was how he blended the socialist "new man" mentality with the "cultural superiority" cliche travellers often fresh from their journeys abroad tend to express when asked about people in a certain foreign country. He said things like "if you need someone to help you with fixing your car, there will always be twenty Cubans there to help you" or "it is in the nature of Cubans to be friendly/helpful/willing to sacrifice." I found a related comment both humorous and somewhat disturbing, how he played off the 1984-esque neighbor monitoring as just the curiosity inherent in Cuban culture.

Overall, I liked the lecture and felt encouraged about what Pedro Pérez-Sarduy said about contemporary Cuba, since I plan to study at the University of Havana in the summer. However, there were issues that I didn't immediately heed much attention until I joined the YAPP [Trinity's on-line forum system] discussion or talked later with professor Figueroa about the lecture, most notably, why Pérez-Sarduy preferred to live in London for such a long period of time or the extent to which his answers sounded like conditioned responses familiar in those who have lived in socialist societies and are often asked to defend the system.

from: Moreover &
Cuba Information Access


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(1931- )
Participant in Moncada attack and imprisoned subsequently; Granma expeditionary; commander of Rebel Army's Second Front of Oriente; minister of Revolutionary Armed Forces, 1959-present; Vice-Premier, 1959-76; in 1976 became first Vice-President of Council of State and Council of Ministers; second secretary of Communist Party since 1965; brother of Fidel Castro.