Carlos Eire is a well known prize winning Cuban author and Yale University Professor of History and Religious Studies, who like me, came to the U.S. in the Pedro Pan airlift.
Carlos Eire is the author of 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir “Waiting for Snow in Havana,” and the recently released Waiting yo Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.
Not all letters sent to Carlos are fan mail. Here is a letter he received and his response:
Dear Mr. Eire,
Being very interested in cuba a friend of mine recently made me a present of your book, waiting for Snow in Havana.As the saying goes there are always two sides to any story or as they say in France where i live ” il ya toujours deux sons de cloche “. Yesterday i read the other side of the story by the illustrious trovador Silvio Rodriquez, who recently performed in several cities
in America with great success and who is known even in Cuba to be someone with a very open mind and speaks very openly without any censorship or hindrance.
I am sending you a copy of his interview. Of course, his remembrance of his growing up in Havana is very different from yours. Maybe this is because he didn’t live in Mirarmar and didn’t have all the privileges you had. He also feels Fidel made mistakes, but bears him no hatred, maybe because he is not a violent nor vindictive person who never got pleasure from killing lizards. I also agree that Fidel Castro has made many errors, particularly in the economic area, but he gave Cuba three things that no American president has yet been able to give to his people: education, culture and health care. Yes the USA has those three things too, but basically only through the private sector reserved for those people who can afford it like those that lived in Miramar.
In peace and best wishes.
Here is Carlos’ response:
Dear From France
Thanks for writing, and for letting me know that you consider me a selfish bastard.
Obviously, yes, there is another side to my story, just as there is another side to the story of the Holocaust, and that of the Gulag. All of the Nazis and Stalinists who slaughtered millions of people had their story to tell too, and they thought that their actions were justified.
Mass murderers and psycho killers have their side of the story too. And some people are enthralled by black-velvet paintings of Elvis.
As the French would say, chacun à son goût. Or as the learned used to say, de gustibus non disputandum.
Which story one believes or how one approaches the sublime depends on how one discerns right from wrong.
I understand that for those who believe in the gospel of Marx and Lenin, all of history is defined by class struggle and the worst wrong of all is private property and the “privileges” that come with it. So, from that perspective, whatever violence takes place against the “privileged” is always right and justified.
I just don’t happen to agree with that view. And the fact that I was born into privilege has little to do with it, for thanks to Castro and company I ended up at the very bottom of American society, a penniless orphan and a “spic” who was constantly reminded by teachers and counselors that his proper place in the world was at the bottom. So, I’ve been there, with the poorest, living in the same slums, facing all of the discrimination and obstacles that those at the very bottom must surpass. And no one helped me out of the pit. I climbed out because I was lucky enough to live in a free society where effort and
accomplishment are not punished, but naturally rewarded. I know poverty, and have lived much longer as a poor man than as a child of privilege. But I don’t think that creating a murderous dictatorship that enforces the redistribution of goods is the solution to poverty.
Aaaaarghhhh…. I could go on and on, but I will try to keep my response brief. I know I can’t change the way you think. I am now old enough to realize that it is very hard to convert anyone who is committed to their faith. And it seems to me that you exhibit all the signs of a pious enthusiast, for anyone who thinks that the so-called Cuban revolution is a good thing is indeed a religious zealot, for seeing the destruction of Cuba and the enslavement of its people as a good thing takes commitment to a very specific ideology, that of the prophets Marx and Lenin.
Anyway, my friend, I’m glad we both live in a world where we can communicate freely and disagree with one another. If we were both in Cuba, we’d be unable to have this exchange, because you or someone else would probably be denouncing me
to the authorities, and I would end up in prison, simply for voicing an “incorrect” point of view.
Communism has killed more human beings than any other ideology or religion in the history of planet earth. It has also stifled the free exchange of ideas more cruelly and systematically than any imperial power driven by greed. Yet, many continue to believe in it.
Here is my take on communism: it only works for monks and nuns or for religious communities such as the Hutterites, that is, it only truly works among those who willingly commit themselves to it out of religious conviction. And even in such
communities, it often falls apart and ceases to work. Once it is forced on entire populations, it never works, and becomes unjust to the maximum, since it requires the constant use of violence and leads to all sorts of inequities. Under Communism, “privilege” is never abolished. On the contrary, it becomes more entrenched than under capitalism, and — even worse — is restricted to an even smaller number of elites.
The three so-called benefits that you think were provided to the Cuban people by Castro and company are illusory. First of all, Cuba had plenty of education, culture, and medical care before Castro came along. In 1958, Cuba had a literacy rate of nearly 80%, a lower infant mortality rate than many European countries, a vibrant mix of European and African culture (which gave the world the rumba, mambo, and cha-cha-cha, along with Jose Raul Capablanca, a world chess champion), more television sets and more newspapers per capita than Italy, and attracted over one million European immigrants, and so on… I could send you a long list of items that prove that Cuba was no third world country before it became Castrolandia.
Anyway… what about these so-called achievements of Castrolandia? What is the use of educating people if you restrict freedom of expression and communication? What is the use of health care if you deprive people of autonomy and bar them
> > from all of the privileges enjoyed by tourists to their country? Slave owners provide health care for their slaves, after all, because they are investments. And they educate them too, so they can perform their assigned tasks.
Hitler provided health care and education and culture for his people too.
So, as you can see, you’ve pushed my buttons, as the saying goes. Writing to me and wagging your finger the way you have is an act of aggression, not much different from telling a Holocaust or Gulag survivor that what happened to them and their family was justified. Sending me an article from Granma is just like sending a rape victim a note from the rapist, or sending a page out of “Mein Kampf” to a Holocaust survivor. In other words, your email is an act of unkindness, not much different from a death threat, or an excommunication that seeks to damn me to eternal suffering for the sin of “privilege.”
Yes, I am scum. You are right. I deserved being torn from my family and being prevented from ever seeing my father again, or from attending his funeral. I deserve to die, and to be tortured for years, until the day of my excruciatingly painful execution, and also for eternity after I die. And so does everyone who does not believe in communism. Is that what you were hoping I would say?
I attach two items. One is a brief list of all of the commonplace human rights that are denied to Cubans. The other is an essay I wrote a few years ago.
All the best to you, sincerely… I hope you continue to live in a society that allows you to express yourself freely, and to wag your finger with abandon — a society totally unlike that from which I had to flee.
Peace, love, and freedom, and mutual respect… forever,
The mere fact that Carlos Eire can debate his attacker, as he well says, is proof that we live in a free world and differences of opinions are allowed, which is not the case inside of Cuba, where the expression of a different point of view from that of the Castro regime, could get a person incarcerated or shot.
Cuba is a farce. The government has imposed itself for so long that a tremendous amount of people are completely confused about how destructive Castro has been for the cuban people, because they were born and reared under his lies, a very sad scenario.
May God have mercy on our “caribbean paradise gone wrong”. Maybe we have
some sort of Karma to pay for as a nation. We don’t seem to be able to get rid of this lying monster.
Amen to Mercy and very grateful to be able to speak my mind in this country!
PS – I just read Carlos Eire’s first book, “Waiting for Snow in Havana” as well as “Learning to Die in Miami, and they are both brilliant books. I recall some of the “travesuras” of the young cuban boys of that era, such as the torturing of the lizards, which went on in my neighborhood also. I adore how he keeps his “sense of humor” throughout the whole ordeal…I laughed out loud…
He’s a very gifted writer. I hope more people (Americans) read him. I like Enrique Flores Galbis, also.
I had read Carlos Eire’s letter before. It is always good to read it again. Thanks for posting it on your blog.
I wish I could tell you that I enjoyed your books. Reading them was like tearing open a deep cut after the stitches had healed. Even so, I could not put them down until I was finished because they are by far the best account written about one of the saddest, and largely unreported, events of the latter 20th Century from someone who witnessed it from the inside. I know it must have been tougher for you to write these two books than it was for me to read them. For that I thank you.
I too buried my pre Pedro Pan Cuban life deep in my mind’s vault and had not gone in there for so long I thought I had forgotten the way back to it. Your books brought it all back. I’m still not sure if it was a good thing, or if it was a bad thing, all I know is that it was a necessary thing. For that too I thank you.
Here’s to all those who know that keeping a sense of humor is one of the best survival tactics!
Jesus, thank you for commenting on my blog. I will forward your response to Mr. Eire. So many people have no idea of our experience as Pedro Pans, and I thank Carlos also for his work. I am also very grateful to Enrique Flores Galbis whose book is being read by young people in this country, ensuring that another generation will know our story.