Rafael Cadenas, contestaciones: Entrevista / Daniel Fermín

Rafael Cadenas, Replies: An Interview

(Photo: Venancio Alcázares)

Before the Interview:

Rafael Cadenas (Barquisimeto, 1930) listens to the anecdote about Mario Vargas Llosa’s arrival at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, Venezuela.

The journalist speaks:

There were so many journalists at the airport that a bystander approached to ask:
“Dude, who’s coming?”
“Vargas Llosa.”
“The basketball player?”

Rafael Cadenas smiles. He tells his own anecdote:

“You made me recall the Spanish essayist Juan Marichal, who always received letters from people asking him to sign a ball. They confused him with the pitcher.”

The journalist smiles.

Two examples of how a writer will never be as famous as any professional athlete, that any singer or actor can have a greater impact on people than an intellectual, even if he’s won the Nobel Prize in Literature or if he has been honored for his work (Rafael Cadenas was recognized this week by the mayor’s office in the Caracas district of El Hatillo).

Interview (Cadenas reads the answers to a questionnaire sent beforehand by mail):

Years ago, you spoke of the uselessness of literature (1969), and also of the null influence of writers in a society that no longer listens to them (1981). Now I ask you: Is it worth it to write to today? Does it make sense to insist on the value of literature if it can’t prevent the world from falling apart?

It’s not useless. Writers do have an influence even if it’s a minority that reads them, but not quite for preventing events that are beyond what human beings are able to do.

Last month, a group of artists (including you) gathered at the Chacao Cultural Center in Caracas to demand the liberation of political prisoners. Leopoldo López is still in jail. Can a writer, artist or intellectual (not the work itself, but the person, the author) do something in the face of the abuse of power beyond raising his voice, establishing a position?

He can write, speak, say what he thinks, as on that occasion, when I read phrases and sayings in defense of the prisoners, the students and of Teodoro Petkoff, a fundamental figure in Venezuela, whose great contributions have been the political party Movimiento al Socialismo, his books and his newspaper Tal Cual.

I cite one of your sayings: “When the State becomes a giant in a country, its inhabitants become dwarves.” Do you think that power today, in Venezuela, steps on the people?

It’s clear that it represses brutally, even peaceful demonstrations. It already has blood on its hands, but it blames the victims for being assaulted with bullets, buckshot and tear gas. It doesn’t blame those who shoot, and it maintains armed groups that exist beyond the law. And yet, dialogue is indispensable, though the government has to depose its arrogance, because it doesn’t possess the truth. It’s actually possessed by ideas whose results we all suffer, including that part of the people that supported it and deserves respect, just like the opposition.

A phrase you read in Chacao, attributed to a dictator, says that when he engages in dialogue he doesn’t like to be interrupted. In the present context: Do you think there can be an agreement or a negotiation between the government and the opposition?

What the opposition is asking for is fair, but the government makes no concession maybe because it considers that a sign of weakness, when it’s actually an opportunity for a shift toward democracy that can save us. Because everything we’re seeing today denies democracy. The regime violates the Constitution even though it waves it around deceitfully, the public powers are at its service, the National Assembly doesn’t live up to its name. It has taken over TV and radio stations to produce propaganda day and night, it threatens the press and plans to impose on the country a way of not thinking. It also attacks the universities, particularly the Central University of Venezuela. The hatred they feel toward them could lead to the destruction of the universities, which would be a tragedy. That’s why all Venezuelans should defend the universities, however they can, always peacefully.

A phrase in your book Anotaciones says: “Poets don’t convince / nor do they conquer. / Their role is elsewhere, alien to power: to be a contrast.” What happens when a writer becomes an ally to power?

He loses the critical function, which is one of his main characteristics, and he joins his fate to that of the government. Neither of them knows how history will treat them.

And isn’t receiving a prize from a mayor’s office, to a certain degree, accepting something from power? Does a tribute in the career of an author who is already consecrated serve a purpose?

Accepting a distinction doesn’t mean allying oneself to power, because you maintain your independence (...). The recognition has a personal significance: I’ve spent half my life in this municipality, that’s why I accepted it.

In a conversation with Marco Rodríguez in 1978 you said that if you had to interview someone whose opinion you considered important you’d ask him what it means, for him, to live. I’ll take your word: What does it mean, for you, to live?

If I knew I’d say it. I can only tell you that for me it’s tied to the unreachable mystery, the one that surpasses the entirety of the enormous, important and worthy body of knowledge achieved by humanity. I’m referring to the absolute unknown that we vainly hope to know. Daily life is inserted there, in that dimension, even though most people don’t notice it.

Post Interview:

Send Mario Vargas Llosa my gratitude, as a Venezuelan, for everything he’s doing for the country.


Related Note: The Poet Who Wrote About Sports

Rafael Cadenas was a sports journalist in the 1950s. He worked for the daily Récord, run by Carlos Luis Barrera (“a great democratic fighter”), alongside the poet Ida Gramcko and her husband José Benavides. He was just a university student who read Marx and watched baseball. His experience only lasted a few months before the newspaper was closed.

The Venezuelan poet used to write articles and reviews, always with the help or advice of Segundo Cazalis. “The veteran journalists were those who covered baseball. They’d send me to write pieces about basketball or tennis, sports I didn’t know very well,” recalled Cadenas, who is a fan of the Cardenales of Lara baseball team.

Rafael Cadenas still enjoys watching the Big Leagues. Also the final days of the Venezuelan season. The writer played baseball when he was young in his native city. “I remember there was an enormous stadium in which the home runs never left the field because no one could get the ball past the fence.”

Back then, the writer from the state of Lara didn’t enjoy basketball. He preferred baseball along with literature. “The passion for soccer in Venezuela is very recent. When I was a kid you rarely saw someone playing it. It wasn’t practiced much in schools,” he added. Journalism today would enjoy his writing.

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 27 April 2014 }

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