From NY-Transfer-News@abbie.blythe.org Sun May 28 21:21:21 2000
Jean-Paul Sartre: Hurricane over sugar
By Leonardo Depestre Catony, Cuban journalist and collaborator of Prensa Latina, Direct from Cuba service of Prensa Latina, 22 April 2000
Havana.- If 1959 was the Year of Liberation, 1960 was the Year of the Agrarian Reform. The nation lived days of intense transformations, not only political but, also, in every aspect of social and individual activity of its citizens.
The curiosity of some, the true interest of others to learn about the revolutionary events drew a number of well known figures: Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcoa Mssrquez - at the time a young journalist -, Waldo Frank, Lsszaro Cardenas, Miguel Angel Asturias, Gerard Philipe, Silvana Pampanini, Cesare Zavatini, Francoise Sagan... Jean Paul Sartre.
"Short, receding hairline and good-natured". That was the description of the French philosopher, Jean Sartre, by the reporter of the newspaper, Revolucion, when he arrived on February 22, 1960.
With him was his wife, Simone de Beauvoir, novelist, who played an important role in the development of the European feminist movement.
With a broad and varied literary production (novels, biographies, plays), Sartre had become a champion of existentialism, a system of thought that related theoretic philosophy with life, psychology and political action.
Existentialism, that had influenced intellectual sectors, became a philosophical current of international significance searching for a middle road from the elements of materialism and idealism.
The author of "El ser y la nada "(The being and nothing - 1943) visited Cuba for a month during which he lived a program replete with conferences, visits and public activities.
In the Hotel Nacional he gave a talk, visited several recently created installations by the Revolutionary government; he agreed to a conference in the University of Havana, interviewed leaders of the Revolution, attended a viewing of his play, The Respectable Prostitute.
However, what surely shook them with most was the explosion in the Havana port, of the French ship, La Coubre, stocked with weapons, on March 4 of 1960, leaving a balance of almost 100 dead and many more wounded.
"Analyzing the events that I have seen reported in the newspaper, Revolucion, I consider it not only to be an attack but a criminal attack", the philosopher declared.
Sartre had visited Cuba previously, but he was now surprised of the changes: "The loose city of 1949 when I came for the first time has left me lost", he confessed to the press.
He also visited the agricultural and mountain regions of the country. As a result of that experience he wrote a series of articles, since, in his own words at the time, "on my return I intend to inform the French in some articles that I will write for the weekly journal, L'Express that has an edition of two hundred thousand copies.
And I feel there will be enough material, at least, for two or three editions.
In reality, the material he collected was much more: he prepared a book read by millions of his compatriots entitled Hurricane over sugar. In the pages of that text he told of the meeting with Commandant Ernesto Che Guevara, then President of the Cuban National Bank, in the late hours of the night.
"The door opened and Simone de Beauvoir and I entered; the impression had disappeared. A young rebel officer with a beret was expecting us: he had a beard, long hair like the soldiers in the vestibule, but his face was smooth and shining, that made me feel like it was morning. It was Guevara. "Had he just showered? Why not? In fact he had begun work early, having lunch and dinner in his office, receiving visitors and expected others after me.
"I heard the door close behind me and I lost, at once, all feeling of my tiredness and an idea of the time. In that office, night does not enter: in those men, in the best of them, they do not feel that sleeping is a natural necessity but a routine from which they have been liberated, more or less. I do not know when Guevara and his comrades relax". (*) Controversial, Sartre himself was a soldier during the II World War. Taken prisoner by the Germans, and once liberated entered the French Resistance movement. The political situation of his times is reflected in much of his writing. He criticized the cold war, the French army's repression in Algiers, US intervention in Viet Nam. He was a committed and tenacious pacifist, conscious of the personal responsibility of each citizen in modeling society and in search of liberty.
The Swedish Academy of the Nobel Prize awarded him with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, but Sartre rejected it considering that if he accepted, it would compromise his integrity as a writer.
When he died at 75 in his native Paris, April 15 of 1980, one of the most renowned representative of contemporary French culture and one of the most internationally important writers in the European scene was no longer.
(*) The quote is taken from the Cuban edition in 1962. AVP
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