By: Nick Santangelo

It was Cuba by way of Mexico by way of the Soviet Union that writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante chose as his approach for denouncing Cuba’s move towards Stalinism. At least, that’s what Infante’s contemporary, Cuban writer Antonio José Ponte told a College of Liberal Arts audience he believes Infante was doing. Opening last weekend’s Cuba in War and Peace event in the Paley Library Lecture Hall Friday evening, Ponte explained how Infante had written seven different times, seven different ways—seven!—the story of a Russian assassination of Leon Trotski in Mexico into the middle of his 1967 work, Three Sad Tigers.

Explicitly attacking the Cuban government’s move towards Stalinism would have been too dangerous for Infante, so he instead left what Ponte believes to be a coded message in his book. Trotski, you see, was killed by a Cuban assassin under orders from Moscow and protection by Fidel Castro’s government, which had adopted Soviet Union-style communism in 1959. Trotski’s divergent views on how communism should work in Cuba didn’t exactly resonate with Castro.

On the contrary, Castro was so unwilling to allow room for interpretation of the Soviet-style communism he had implemented in Cuba that he was willing to kill. By repeating the tale of Trotski’s assassination seven times, Infante was trying to drill into readers’ heads the reality that Castro repeatedly eliminated his enemies in this manner. At least, that’s how Ponte presented things during his keynote speech at Temple University Friday.

Continuing, Ponte explained that Infante was hardly the only writer to address this topic. Many years later, Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura penned The Man Who Loved Dogs, which recounted Trotski’s assassination and the life of his assassin, who took refuge back in Cuba after the killing. Padura, however, completely omitted any mention of how Moscow and Havana colluded to plan the assassination. The implication, said Ponte, was that even years later it was still unsafe to write openly about the Soviet Union’s influence on and connection to Castro’s government.

Ponte also told the crowd about two other Cuban writers who took issue with what the country’s government was doing with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Antonio Benítez couldn’t help but question why Soviet missiles were staged in Cuban territory during 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis. But it was the fourth author Ponte mentioned who was perhaps most interesting.

Fernández Retamar authored a famous essay (Calibans) that has been reprinted many times. In it, Retamar actually defends the Moscow-Havanna relationship and holds up Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution as models of excellence for other Caribbean nations to follow.

The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the very edge of a catastrophic nuclear holocaust, but the United States and the Soviet Union pulled back from that edge, resisting the urge to launch. Today, the Cold War is long since over, but American-Russian relations are arguably at their most contentious since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse. Cuba, meanwhile, entered its first day of not being presided over by a Castro in more than six decades when Raúl Castro—Fidel Castro’s younger brother—stepped down Thursday, the day before Ponte gave his keynote at Temple.

If you weren’t able to make the History Department’s Cuba in War and Peace event, watch the full keynote video featuring Antonio José Ponte. 

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