Committed author Zoé Valdés was born in Havana in the year that Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. In one of her first books, The Daily Nothingness, published in 1995, she talked about the economic failures of the regime and the deprivation of freedom suffered by the island's inhabitants. She has since been declared 'persona non grata' by the Cuban regime.
You have Cuban ties, Spanish nationality and you live in Paris: do you feel European?
I'm Cuban and have had Spanish and French nationality for a few months. If I feel European, it's mainly because in Cuban crossbreeding there is a very strong Spanish and French heritage. I live in France and I like this country's culture. I like its literature, its mindset and the rigour of the French language. Exile can be a source of inspiration but it is still a punishment and not a gift from the Gods, especially when it's enforced exile.
You were banned from ever returning to Cuba in 1995, so what do you think of the European Union's policies vis-à-vis the Castro regime?
I think that Brussels should act firmly with Fidel Castro, because he's a real tyrant and is still getting away with it. He's taking advantage of the US trade embargo and Europe's decision to re-establish commercial trading and resume diplomatic relations. The EU should demand that all political prisoners be freed, without exception or conditions, then find a quick, peaceful solution to make Castro hand over to other political leaders and a real democracy.
How do you see the future of South America?
I'm neither an expert in international politics nor a fortune teller. I can only say that I really don't like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, the populist leaders who support Castro, a recognised dictator. Latin America has a reputation for major corruption and 'caudillismo' (This is a cultural phenomenon that first appeared during the early 19th century in revolutionary South America; a type of leader with a charismatic personality and enough of a populist program of future reforms to gain broad sympathy, at least at the outset, among the common people). I think that America, both North and South, should open up to the world. Relations between the countries within the continent must improve: it's time that their governments stopped insulting each other and fighting over trifling matters. Cubans have many associations with Europe and North America. I think that the European Union should see its links with America from a more human point of view, commercial certainly, but human first and foremost. There are still some Cubans working like slaves for companies – most of them European – on miserable salaries, paid in pesos and not in euros. Castro's dictatorship makes these people slaves and lets others abuse the situation.
Politically, you're dead against Fidel Castro: do you think that this involvement goes well with literature?
While I do not hesitate to express my opinions in the press, I'm not a member of any political party or anti-Castro organisation. My involvement is personal and is due to my own suffering, my life, my experience as a Cuban and as a writer, the way I see things and my solidarity with my fellow countrymen. Other Latin America authors are also speaking out about dictatorships at the moment. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – except that he is in favour of a dictator - Isabel Allende and Luis Sepulveda. Some European and US writers have also been active against war, if not against everything: Arthur Miller, Paul Auster, Susan Sontag… the list is endless. Involvement is one thing, literature is another: it is possible to mix the two but not permanently. Nowadays people who speak out against George W Bush or against war are admired and respected because these causes are politically correct. It is more difficult to tell it like it is. Say "that's enough!" to Castro's dictatorship, "that's enough!" to any form of terrorism and "that's enough!" to political correctness.