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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: A Vaccine Against the Urge to Return
"The Spanish word “volvedera” (the urge to return) was coined by novelist Alfredo Bryce Echenique," writes Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner. "He was asked why he was returning to Peru after so many years in Europe. He meditated for a moment and replied, “I don't know, I felt the ‘volvedera.’”

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

I think the Spanish word “volvedera” (the urge to return) was coined by novelist Alfredo Bryce Echenique. He was asked why he was returning to Peru after so many years in Europe. He meditated for a moment and replied, “I don't know, I felt the ‘volvedera.’” And he stayed happily installed in Lima, a city that every day is more livable and beautiful.

Another one that returned to his origins was my friend the writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza. Plinio spent his youth in Paris. He returned to Bogotá several times, but always to gain momentum and escape again. In one of those somersaults he ended up in Havana, in Prensa Latina press agency, and brought García Márquez, his friend “Gabo”, to Cuba.

The contact with the Cuban reality (the executions and other disgusting facts) began to cure his ideological rubella. Until, in 1971, after the unfortunate “Padilla case”, the scales fell completely from his eyes. The Island was a Stalinist satrapy. Years later he returned to Europe as ambassador to Italy and Portugal. Finally, he felt the urge to return, settled in the beautiful northern area of Bogotá, surrounded by “cachacos” and a wild traffic congestion, but much better than the city he had left several decades before.

Author Néstor Díaz de Villegas has just published a book in which he demonstrates why it is a mistake to return to Cuba. In some ways, the work is a vaccine against the urge to return felt by the nostalgic Cubans who have spent a lifetime in exile. The title of the prodigiously written book is De donde son los gusanos (Where the Worms Are From) and has an explanatory subtitle, “Chronicle of a return to Cuba after 37 years of exile.” Gusanos (worms) is a derogatory term used in Cuba against people that oppose the Castro revolution.

In 1973 Néstor was sentenced to several years in jail when his “counterrevolutionary” poems were confiscated by the authorities. He was a boy in eleventh grade. The political police took him out of his history class. Six years later, in 1979, he was in the Ariza concentration camp when Fidel Castro magnanimously gave three thousand political prisoners as “a present” to Jimmy Carter, with the condition that they had to leave the Island.

The weak American president, facing double-digit inflation in his country, was uselessly trying to settle the differences with a regime emboldened by its victories in Africa and Castro’s diplomatic triumphs. Fidel was the president of the Non-Aligned Movement -- despite his total subordination to the USSR.

That was the year, 1979, when Fidel prophesied to Venezuelan historian Guillermo Morón that one day he would stroll in triumph through a Washington under Moscow’s rule.

In the midst of that turmoil, Néstor arrived in the United States. In Los Angeles, little by little, he became one of the great chroniclers and poets in Spanish. But in 2014, President Barack Obama, determined, like Jimmy Carter, to settle with the unruly neighbors, quietly broke all his promises to maintain trade pressures until the Island regime showed signs of change, and restored diplomatic ties.

It was then that Néstor Díaz de Villegas felt the urge to return to his country, perhaps a victim of that dark maneuver in the brain that clouds our negative memories and makes us believe that with the changes that took place (in all societies something always changes) there could be hope in the Island.

In the airport, the author confirmed that Cuba was practically uninhabitable. While in the last sixty years all the Latin American capitals had made the jump to modernity and progress -- some more than others -- Cuba had suffered a backward evolution, as a result of the inability of a system that only creates wealth for the small military elite in power.

The most part of the Cuban urban profile is desolation, destruction, stink and poverty. The officials are indolent. The political police continued to beat the people. There is almost nothing to indicate that there is a desire to rectify. The regime remains anchored in the Leninist vulgate of a single party and single ideas that have inexorably led the country to disaster.

One last confession, in the last stage of my life, with 76 years of age and 57 outside of Cuba, I had secretly felt the volvedera, the urge to return. Reading De donde son los gusanos convinced me that the island has nothing to do with me or my family.

I prefer to remember the Cuba I left than to live in the hell my country has become.

It is sad but true.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.


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