On his recent visit to Cuba a group of writers practically begs Arthur Miller for help, for words of support, for some protection against their oppressive government and Miller is stumped. He’s so enthralled with Castro and his “fantastic shrimp” and “spectacular pork” that he is clueless to their plight. Morality does not require that we risk our lives, as some Cuban writers do, to speak truth to power but it does require that we honor those who do. What then to think of someone who laughs off their plight while enjoying wine with their oppressor? No Brad, it’s not just you, what Miller did was despicable.
A meeting had been arranged the previous afternoon, no doubt through the writers union, with some fifty or so Cuban writers. Initially the organizers had expected only a few dozen on such short notice, but they had had to find a larger space when this crowd showed up. We encountered a rather barren auditorium, a speaker’s platform and an odd quietness for so large a crowd. What to make of their silence? I couldn’t help being reminded of the fifties, when the question hanging over any such gathering was whether it was being observed and recorded by the FBI.
It was hard to tell whether Styron’s or my work was known to this audience, almost all of them men. In any case, with the introductions finished, Styron briefly described his novels as I did my plays, and questions were invited. One man stood and asked, “Why have you come here?”
Put so candidly, the question threw my mind back to Eastern Europe decades ago; there too it was inconceivable that such a meeting could have no political purpose. Styron and I were both rather stumped. I finally said that we were simply curious about Cuba and were opposed to her isolation and thought a short visit might teach us something. “But what is your message?” the man persisted. We had none, we were now embarrassed to admit. Still, as we broke up a number of them came up to shake hands and wordlessly express a sort of solidarity with us, or so I supposed. But in some of them there was also suspicion, I thought, if not outright, if suppressed, hostility to us for failing to bring a message that would offer some hope against their isolation. But back to the dinner with Fidel…
There were fantastic shrimp and spectacular pork, dream pork, Cubans being famous for their pork….