Leonardo Padura's recent visit to Curitiba (Brazil) yielded at least two truly symbolic images. In one of them, the Cuban writer is shaking hands with former president Lula de Silva, now in prison; and in the other he appears with a bullhorn in a street protesting, insisting that his friend is innocent.
Each of these images is rife with symbolism, for two reasons.
In the first place, Padura has explicitly refused to talk about politics on his literary tours around the world. And, in this case, when visiting Brazil precisely to promote his new book The Transparency of Time, he finally plunged into the pool of Brazilian politics.
The cagey discretion of the author of The Man Who Loved Dogs has been ended of his own volition, but he has now become a writer with public political opinions. And there is no going back after the partisan line that he has so openly crossed.
We all have political opinions, some thorny, and with partial or incomplete views. The writer, as an intellectual, is no exception. Being a writer is no carte blanche in the tower of Babel that is the Latin American political world.
Padura now must answer political questions, as it would simply be hypocritical for him to say that he refuses to talk about politics, after his visit to Curitiba. That was a manifestly political action, and every political action entails consequences. Anyone who has written a book as documented and strident as The Man Who Loved Dogs knows this well.
Lula da Silva has been in prison for a year and a half. He is entangled in two different corruption cases and six criminal proceedings.
Even if he, Lula, were personally innocent, if he did not directly participate in everything he is accused of, he is still answerable. Are we to believe that all the corrupt machinations that corroded his party, the PT, and ended up sinking his political apprentice, Dilma Rousseff, happened right in front of him, without him realizing it?
We are not going to get into whether Lula is innocent or not. What I do harbor, as a Venezuelan and journalist, is a clear image of how, as President of Brazil, he travelled several times to Venezuela with the owners of Odebrecht. The Brazilian construction company received massive amounts of money from the Chavez regime for various projects, 11 of which are still unfinished, despite some 13 billion dollars having been disbursed for them.
The new Panama Canal cost 5 billion dollars. With this example the Venezuelan chapter of Transparency International is seeking to spotlight the magnitude of money that disappeared in Venezuela related to contracts signed with Lula's public endorsement.
Let's go back to Padura. The second powerful image is that of the writer along with some two dozen people, megaphone in hand, shouting that Lula is innocent, that he is actually a political prisoner.
This shot is an extremely symbolic one. A protest by just a few people, with a simple bullhorn, can occur in Curitiba without this having any negative fallout for Padura and the Lula supporters who participated in this protest.
Public protests of this type could not occur, and, in fact, do not occur, in Cuba. They are simply crushed. Those who go out to condemn the existence of political prisoners on the Island can end up behind bars for the simple act of demonstrating, even without a bullhorn like the one Padura used in Curitiba.
One like Padura who takes to the streets in Brazil, without any fear of being repressed, and saying what he thinks, out loud, is impossible in Cuba. And that is, undoubtedly, the worst part of this story – though the writer does not want to talk about politics.